By Brittney Dunkins
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius joined global and domestic leaders in HIV/AIDS research, treatment and outreach to outline priorities for increased effectiveness in treating those living with HIV/AIDS at the Global Engagement in Care conference held at GW last week.
“The idea of exchanging notions is especially needed at this pivotal moment in our struggle with HIV and AIDS,” Secretary Sebelius said. “The U.S. government has a very clear vision: creating an AIDS-free generation.”
The D.C. Developmental Center for AIDS Research at the George Washington University and the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health hosted the event, with planning from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC).
Lynn R. Goldman, dean of GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services, opened the program, welcoming more than 70 members of the private and public sectors to the two-day conference held at the Elliott School of International Affairs.
“What we are trying to do essentially is to ensure that people with HIV have longer and healthier lives,” said Nancy Mahon, the executive director of the MAC AIDS Fund, the conference sponsor.
Ms. Mahon, who was named the chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2011, was a key player in the leadership and organization of the meeting.
“Today’s meeting is a direct result of the commitment we made during last year’s International AIDS Conference. Nancy Mahon approached us with the vision,” Secretary Sebelius said.
Secretary Sebelius laid out grim statistics and addressed the difficulties of engagement, retention and care, specifically the “cascade effect” or the decreasing percentages of those involved in the care process, from diagnosis to a suppressed viral load.
“Of the estimated 1.1 million people in the United States with HIV, we believe that around 200,000 don’t know their status,” Secretary Sebelius said.
“But even among the 900,000 who do have a confirmed HIV/AIDS status, we estimate that 200,000 people haven’t been linked with care and an additional 250,000 haven’t benefited fully from care,” she added. “Put another way, nearly three out of every four people in the U.S. living with HIV have failed to navigate the treatment cascade.”
Secretary Sebelius also noted three questions for the attendees to consider during discussions: first, how to break down the barriers of access to the health care system; second, how to combine care and support services to better serve the most vulnerable populations; and third, how to better service the rising numbers of women with HIV/AIDS who face greater stigma and have less resources.
“Our goal must be to do whatever is necessary to get and keep people in life-saving treatments,” she said. “That includes fighting stigma and discrimination. It includes advocating for the health of all communities that are at risk for HIV,” she said.
Amy Lansky, deputy director of the Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology and Lab Science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Grant Colfax, director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy; Deborah Von Zinkernagel, principal deputy coordinator of OGAC; and DeAnn Gruber, Louisiana Office of Public Health, STD/HIV Program, were among those who addressed the conference to discuss the current state of U.S. care practices, the effectiveness and approach of global efforts, and the importance and success of local levels of engagement and care.
“We need interventions to help people move from one stage to the other in the cascade and we now understand those movements are bi-directional,” Dr. Holtgrave said. “We need social, behavioral and economic interventions to help people engage and receive care.”
Secretary Sebelius echoed support for this multilayered approach, noting that cooperation between the varied organizations that serve the HIV/AIDS community is the best chance for improved results.
“If we are going to achieve an AIDS-free generation, we need to do it together. We need to do it by sharing best practices. We need to do it by learning from each other’s successes and failures. We need to do it by tackling the challenges as a global community, not just individual nations or public and private sectors alone,” she said.
A report outlining the results of the two-day convening is currently under development.