Washington, D.C. -- Today, NASTAD, a non-profit association that represents public health officials who administer HIV and hepatitis programs, launched the "Ready to End the HIV and Viral Hepatitis Epidemics" Chair's Challenge that calls on U.S. health departments to accelerate the end of HIV and viral hepatitis in the U.S.
"For the first time in history, we have scientifically-validated and effective prevention and care modalities that prove ending the HIV and hepatitis epidemics is feasible. We have come a long way in our ability to support all people living with HIV and hepatitis to lead long and healthy lives. Make no mistake, there is heavy lifting to do, including reimagining how we work together across siloes and institutions. In many communities, there are often significant political, financial, cultural, and other hurdles to overcome. With enough patience, passion, strategy, and resources, these obstacles can be overcome," noted NASTAD Executive Director Murray Penner.
The Chair's Challenge is broken into three steps:
- State and territorial health departments will sign on to a commitment pledge and policy statement that reaffirms the tremendous opportunity and role they play in accelerating ending the epidemics.
- NASTAD will survey health departments to determine the minimum program and policy building blocks that must be in place to support impactful HIV and hepatitis prevention and care programs, and assess where health departments land on the continuum of these minimum requirements.
- NASTAD will develop a "report card" for health departments on core health department competencies. NASTAD's technical assistance, including state-level policy activities, will then be prioritized to address where the greatest impact can be made to support health departments in modernizing these programs and policies.
As it relates to hepatitis, the confluence of several major recent developments means that the next five years will present a critical turning point in determining whether hepatitis C will be controlled or eliminated in the U.S. Chief among these developments is the availability of a highly efficacious cure, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Viral Hepatitis Action Plan that provides a framework for key stakeholders to strengthen the nation's response to viral hepatitis across public and private sectors, and a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report that concluded eliminating hepatitis B and C is possible if public and political will, resources, and attention to barriers are prioritized.
In terms of ending the HIV epidemic, scientific evidence of success has informed the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and its accompanying Care Continuum Initiative that have provided an evidence-based framework for federal, state, and local HIV programs to increasingly focus on:
- identifying individuals who are unaware of their HIV status
- linking HIV positive individuals to care and supporting retention in care, and
- referring HIV negative individuals into services that assist in keeping them free of HIV.
As a result, many state and local HIV programs such as New York, Washington state, Colorado, and San Francisco have accelerated measures to drive increased rates of HIV testing, treatment, and viral suppression, and to increase the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
NASTAD calls on all states to lay the groundwork to accelerate a "right-sized" ending the epidemics strategy for their jurisdiction. In keeping with the jurisdictions mentioned previously, these efforts should occur in collaboration with communities and people living with HIV.
"I challenge all of my colleagues in both states and cities to join NASTAD in re-imagining our work with a clear eye toward ending the epidemics. This is not business as usual. We have a unique opportunity at this moment in history to change the trajectory of HIV and hepatitis forever," said NASTAD Board Chair, DeAnn Gruber, STD/HIV Program Director for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in announcing the challenge.