As is the tradition among many Black folks, this is the time of year we look back at where we've been to help inform us as we plan where we are going.
In that spirit it's seems only fitting that we kick off this first issue of the 2011 Black AIDS weekly with a recap of the HIV/AIDS highlights -- the the good, the bad and the ugly -- of 2010. Here is our list of the ten most significant HIV/AIDS events of 2010.
- It's the economy stupid!:
No other event in 2010 was more significant than the ongoing economic downturn. As a result federal, state, and municipal governments cut key HIV/AIDS programming in 2010; and the economic climate is unlikely to be any better in 2011.
- The end of the travel ban against people with HIV entering the United States:
The United States finally came in line with the rest of the developed world by ending irrational discrimination against people living with HIV attempting to travel to the United States
- The end of the prohibition against needle exchange:
The lifting of the ban on federal support for syringe exchange programs has to ability to literally save lives.
- The passage of health-care reform:
The affordable Healthcare for America Act prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions -- including HIV, eliminates both the annual and life time caps on health insurance coverage, and expands prescription drug benefits. All are very important for people living with HIV/AIDS.
- Launch of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy:
Finally a plan of action to end the AIDS epidemic with real goals and objectives
- Scientific breakthroughs in microbicides:
women controlled bio medical interventions are critical to ending the epidemic
- Identification of new antibodies against the HIV virus:
Can we say HIV vaccine?
- Scientific breakthroughs in Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP):
One pill, once a day could possibly prevent HIV infection. Still lots of work to be done, but a great start
- The success of various social marketing and other health-messaging campaigns, such as Greater Than AIDS and the various outreaches:
The only way to end the AIDS epidemic is by creating a national movements. Successful social marketing campaigns can help us get there.
- The midterm elections:
The midterm elections were a wake-up call and not just for elected officials
2010 was punctuated with starts, launches, and major scientific breakthroughs -- some decades in the making. Progress was made, but the mission has not yet been accomplished. The challenge the AIDS community now faces is actually implementing these initiatives, translating these plans, and operationalizing these concepts. We must ask ourselves: How do we keep the momentum? How do we scale up? How do we turn the big events of 2010 into real accomplishments in 2011?
What would a New Year resolution be without a list? Here are our top 5 recommendations for 2011.
1) Adjusting to the New Political Realities
The midterm elections shifted America's political landscape, including for the HIV/AIDS movement. With a divided federal government -- Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats controlling the Senate and Executive branch -- we need to focus on new ways to create change in the policy arena. We need to be more strategic in our policy work and, quite frankly, engage in some good, old-fashioned member education and advocacy.
First, we must identify who among our allies remains in the Congress. It's time to remind these old friends that we still need their support and that the work they have engaged in thus far has not been in vain. We also need to create new supporters. This means spending time briefing our newly elected public officials to help them understand the important role they can play in this work. This requires creating profiles of the members of Congress representing key districts, understanding what the AIDS epidemic looks like in those districts, informing them about how the epidemic affects their district, and then educating and mobilizing their constituents to communicate the importance of HIV/AIDS issues to these representatives.
2) Healthcare Reform
The Healthcare Affordability Act was probably the most significant HIV-related legislation in the history of the epidemic. The removal of previously existing conditions, the lifting of the lifetime and annual bans, the potential adjustments in Medicare and Medicaid and the creation of health zones are extremely important for people living with HIV.
In 2011 healthcare reform will face numerous challenges. Chief among them: Many in the freshman members of the 112th Congress campaigned on a pledge to kill healthcare reform and cut the federal deficit. It is highly unlikely they will repeal healthcare reform, but they may very well succeed in starving it to death by depriving critical measures of funding and/or delaying and/or complicating their implementation. We need to be vigilant to make sure this doesn't happen. The second reality is that we can't scale up without additional resources. The current economic climate -- and specifically the budget limitations facing federal, state and local governments -- will seriously undermine our ability to actually implement healthcare reform's various measures.
3) National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS)
This plan exemplifies the maxim "the devil is in the details". The administration has set out clear and concise goals and objectives for implementing the NHAS, so now we finally have a picture of where we are heading as a nation. Now the challenge lies in answering questions like:
- Exactly how do we get there?
- Who has the roadmap?
- What route are we taking?
- What in the plan speaks to the most vulnerable among us?
- And how does the plan address the unique HIV challenges facing Black America?
We need to analyze the NHAS and translate it into a policy document that relates explicitly and specifically to Black people. Then we need to develop strategies to mobilize African Americans to make sure we are involved every step of the way.
4) Scientific Breakthroughs
There were at least three major scientific breakthroughs in 2010. Now we must make sure that Black people are not left behind again by being denied the benefit of these advances. If a cure for AIDS were discovered today, the infrastructure does not exist to ensure that Black Americans have access to that cure. It is more important than ever that we raise HIV science literacy in Black communities. We need to build a Black AIDS treatment network composed of community members, clinicians and people living with HIV and AIDS who are charged with educating Black America on the state of HIV science and treatment, and ensuring that people who need care and treatment have access to it and utilize those resources.
5) Increases in Outreach to Black Communities
For the first time in the history of the AIDS epidemic, we have launched an aggressive HIV/AIDS social marketing campaign targeting Black America. In 2010 that movement expanded to include explicit messages to gay and bisexual Black men, as well as to women, faith leaders and people living with HIV. In 2011 we need to expand these efforts, in particular targeting gay and bisexual men more robustly. Whether we are talking about teen pregnancy or HIV, too often in our communities the folks who need information the most are the very folks for whom we are most reluctant to design messages. We cannot end the HIV epidemic in Black America if we allow homophobia or a general discomfort with talking about sex and sexuality to prevent us from creating an honest, frank and robust HIV conversation about, with and by Black gay and bisexual men.
We are at a crossroad. We are not where we used to be, but when and if we get to where we need to be may well be determined by with path we choose today. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, there is a role for you to play. There are no innocent bystanders in this battle. Do something!
Yours in the struggle,