Yesterday, President Barack Obama shifted emphasis from his predecessor on yet another issue, as he announced the administration’s launch of the “Natinal HIV/AIDS Community Discussions” to be hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). “HIV remains an serious challenge to the American people and I am committed to developing an effective National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” said President Obama. “The National HIV/AIDS Community Discussions will provide an opportunity for members of the public to give their input on how we can best address this crucial issue. With the insights from communities across the country, we will have a strategy that is focused on the goals of reducing HIV incidence, getting people living with HIV/AIDS into care and improving health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.”
The change of emphasis pertains to a stress on helping those who have the disease as well as educating those who participate in activities considered likely to spread the disease. The previous administration stressed abstinence, which certainly helps the spread of STDs, but also tended to sweep aside discussions of treatment or care for those who contracted them. Early reactions seem mostly cautiously optimistic.
To be sure, detractors are quick to see the. But even supporters realize that the administration’s good intentions will be tough to achieve in the present economic crisis:
[The initiative] aims to cut new transmissions by 25 percent, get more patients treated quickly and reduce the stigma that prevents people from getting tested. While it calls for more coordinated policies, the plan does not allocate new money or provide immediate structure to do the job. It directs government agencies to work together more closely to focus spending where it is most needed and identify where new spending would do the most good.
(As reported on Yahoo!News.com)
Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was cynical. “This will be another report that will gather dust on the shelves of the Library of Congress,” Weinstein said after hearing Obama speak. He said the $30 million being offered to expand testing added up to “9 cents per man, woman and child” in the United States. “It took 15 months to figure out what we already knew, and we are going to fight a war without any weapons,” he said.
(As reported on Reuters.com)
Nancy Mahon, Executive Director of MAC AIDS Fund, posted a reaction at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.com that stresses the need for local governments, businesses, and philanthropic groups to work together to pool resources and find locally viable strategies.
President Obama’s HIV/AIDS plan recognizes that problem and urges nonprofit organizations, businesses, and philanthropies to work more closely with local governments to learn from one another and to use donor dollars to support and evaluate prevention programs. The goal is to learn what approaches work best in the rural south, for example, and which ones will do the most good in New York City, recognizing that sometimes very different efforts work best in different regions.
The question for grant makers and governments now is how do we best forge such partnerships, given the complex financing and epidemiological landscape?
Her responses might seem rather optimistic (that all these local organizations have vested interests to help each other wrestle with the AIDS crisis), but her stress on interaction across groups and regions hints at the sort of regionalism/federalism that most Americans like to stress, even as they tackle a national problem (Think about how people across the country talk about ‘bailing out Wall Street’ out in New York, when their own local banks continue to go under). We also found in her response a veiled appeal for the need to keep communication and networking as priorities so that inevitable shifts in governmental policy do not cause undue disorientation for a mission-based organization. But even Ms. Mahon remains sanguine about the possibility that people do not follow up on the president’s exhortation: “As states begin to put President Obama’s AIDS plan into effect, government leaders, corporate influencers, and citizens everywhere must hold hands and work together. Otherwise the AIDS plan will remain what all of the previous, less prestigious, and less courageous presidential commission plans became — unfinanced and unsupported mandates. People living with HIV/AIDS and those at risk of becoming infected as well as their families deserve better.”