The Obama administration took a monumental leap forward Tuesday by announcing the country’s first-ever National HIV/AIDS strategy (NHAS), activists say. However, they wonder if $30 million is enough to adequately address the epidemic.
The plan, which aims to reduce the annual number of new HIV infections by 25 percent within five years, was announced by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Diplomatic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, Office of National AIDS Policy Director Jeffrey Crowley and Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh.
Each year, 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV, which has led to over 1.1 million Americans living with the disease today. Almost every 10 minutes, someone becomes infected with HIV.
Because of these staggering statics, the Obama administration has committed itself to crafting the United States into a country where HIV infections are rare, no matter the age, race, gender or religion.
To bring this vision to fruition, the Obama administration has focused on three primary goals at the center of its comprehensive plan: reducing the number of new infections; increasing access to care, and optimizing health outcomes for people living with HIV and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
“This plan is a culmination of a great deal of work,” said Barnes. “President Obama promised, as a nation, domestically we would focus on this issue. There hasn’t been enough attention on what we’re doing in this country, and for that reason, we’re launching our national plan today.”
In order to accomplish these goals, a coordinated national response is necessary, which is why the NHAS includes a federal implementation plan. The plan essentially outlines key, short-term actions the federal government will execute. “This plan has an ambitious vision,” said Sebelius. “This national plan is not just a document … it’s not just white paper, it’s a detailed action plan.”
While the administration is obviously high on the potential of the strategy, it isn’t alone in its praise of the new plan. “I applaud the president for developing this new National AIDS strategy and laying out a roadmap for how our country must address this devastating disease,” said Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Congress, in the organization’s press release.
“The Congressional Black Congress and our members look forward to working with the president and his administration, as well as our state and local governments, to expand and improve access to prevention, care and treatment services and address the needs of our communities.”
Not all organizations are satisfied with the NHAS. Housing Works, the largest community-based AIDS organization in the United States, expressed “deep frustration and disappointment” with the new plan. “The president’s plan is so flawed that it might actually represent a step backwards in combating HIV and AIDS in the United States,” said president and CEO Charles King in a press release.
Housing Works feels the plan sets insufficiently ambitious goals for reducing the number of annual HIV infections in the U.S. while failing to provide adequate funding to reach even the modest HIV prevention and treatment goals it sets out.
“I’m astonished that, after 15 months of intensive study by his administration, the president believes that the United States is only capable of reducing annual HIV infections by 25 percent, “ continued King. “Would President Obama suggest that we only clean up 25 percent of the Gulf oil spill? Never.”
Concerns – like those of King – illustrate that the plan is a beginning, not an end. Needless to say, patience will be necessary.
Koh stressed teamwork is also necessary to make the strategy successful. “You don’t have to be infected to be affected by this disease,” Koh said. “Our success requires the entire nation to come together.”