Too often, I hear AIDS referred to as the "forgotten epidemic." With more than one million people living with HIV in the United States, nearly 60,000 new infections occurring each year, and nearly 640,000 people living with HIV/AIDS without the care they need, now is not the time for forgetting.
Fortunately, the July 2010 release of the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy offered long sought-after hope that our nation was finally buckling down and tackling HIV/AIDS on its own soil. The three pillars of the NHAS Reducing Incidence, Increasing Access to Care, and Reducing Health Disparities offer a blueprint for an effective response to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and an opportunity for all of us in the corporate, philanthropic, and HIV communities to come together to establish clear goals and measurable outcomes to affect real change.
Earlier this year, on the White House blog, Melody C. Barnes, assistant to the president and director of the domestic policy council, reiterated this point in a post about the importance of leveraging private sector support for the NHAS. In her post, Barnes stated, "We know that some of our biggest successes in fighting HIV/AIDS have come about because of private-sector initiatives, and we've called on businesses and foundations to provide that next level of leadership by stepping up their efforts in a few targeted areas."
At AIDS United, we wholeheartedly agree. As do our private and public-sector supporters.
Together, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Social Innovation Fund(SIF), Walmart Foundation), Chevron, and the MAC AIDS Fund have committed millions of dollars to community-driven programs that work to help people living with HIV/AIDS in our country's most vulnerable populations and communities access the life-saving HIV/AIDS care and support services that they need and deserve. These investments are a pivotal step toward real-time implementation of the NHAS, specifically the Increasing the Access to Care pillar.
Bristol-Myers Squibb's multimillion-dollar, multiyear investment was theprivate-sector catalyst for this unprecedented, laser-like focus on reducing societal and structural barriers to HIV care, supporting the work of five communities highly affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Walmart Foundation also stepped up as a key private-sector investor, enabling two other significantly affected U.S. communities to join in this critical access-to-care work.
But it was the $3.6 million public-sector investment of the Social Innovation Fund that has helped forge a true public-private partnership between all access-to-care funding partners, significantly expanding the scope of the initiative. In February, ten U.S. communities received a combined $2.7 million to develop innovative collaborative programs to improve individual health outcomes and strengthen local services systems, connecting economically and socially marginalized individuals living with HIV to high-quality support services and health care.
As the largest infusion of non-HIV/AIDS-specific into the field in years, these SIF dollars promise to deliver a renewed sense of urgency in support of innovative, community-driven interventions and to change how we invest in improving the health outcomes of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.
These innovative collaborative approaches rolling out in communities across the U.S. include:
- Mobile engagement teams: These teams will reach chronically ill HIV-positive people through street-based outreach and a full spectrum of support services, including psychiatric and housing support.
- Handheld technology: For outreach workers who need to record client data and contact information, the use of cutting-edge handheld technology will result in quicker service delivery, more immediate contact information, and better tracking of outcome data. At the same time, it will help eliminate several steps related to data entry, creating a leaner system of service delivery.
- Center of Excellence in HIV-positive women's care: Clinical care for women living with HIV will be integrated to address behavioral health needs, bilingual information and care, and childcare services. The Center of Excellence will be linked to clinical research, addressing a gap in existing research specific to women living with HIV/AIDS.
- Telemedicine: A ground-breaking approach to serving people who face a shortage of nearby HIV medical providers, one program will use video technology to allow local nurses to communicate and collaborate with medical providers at permanent HIV treatment sites.
The match required by SIF creates an expanded funding pool of millions of dollars for these critical new programs. Each of the ten sub-grantee communities must raise its own match dollar-for-dollar from local private-sector resources, infusing that community with hundreds of thousands of dollars for innovative access to care partnerships that had not previously been available. It's a win-win for each SIF-supported community and funding partner and a sound investment in the "healthy futures" of each community as well as the health of our nation.
However, it's simply not enough that one organization is committed to change, that ten organizations are implementing change, or that our national governing body mandated a strategy for change. It's that we are working together public and private to roll out innovations that improve health outcomes for those who need it most.
Yes, we have secured unprecedented support for programs that have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. But we must continue our momentum and bring more public and private investors to our work so as to forge even more effective and innovative partnerships committed to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic right here at home.
Dr. Vignetta Charles is vice president of programs and evaluation for AIDS United, where she leads efforts to measure and document program outcomes in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS in the United States. She is an alumna of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.