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Activists remind us of the social movement behind the National AIDS Strategy—and why we still need it today

, by Emily Newman

Ten years ago, a small group of HIV activists in the U.S. began a conversation that would ultimately result in a strategic plan—developed and supported by the White House—to end HIV transmission in the U.S., improve access to HIV care and improve the health of everyone living with HIV.

Judith Auerbach

Judith Auerbach, PhD

“At the time, the U.S. was asking other countries to have a strategic plan of some sort in place in order to receive U.S. AIDS dollars from PEPFAR—even when our own country didn’t have a national strategy. We felt this was a little disingenuous,” said Judy Auerbach, professor of medicine at UCSF and former Vice President for Science and Public Policy at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, who was part of the core group who originated a campaign for a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in 2007.

Auerbach, at the time representing San Francisco AIDS Foundation, worked in collaboration with a small group of AIDS activists around the country to raise the priority of having a national HIV/AIDS strategy to presidential candidates in the 2008 election. The founders of the group established a steering committee, and quickly signed on other HIV and AIDS organizations to the cause.

“It grew from five or six organizations to 40, to hundreds,” said Auerbach. “It became a social movement.”

Obama HIV AIDS In the end, said Auerbach, they were able to get commitments from both sides of the political aisle: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all agreed to commit to developing a National AIDS Strategy under their administration if elected President. When Barack Obama was elected President, his administration, through the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the U.S. in July 2010.

“It is kind of incredible in retrospect,” said Auerbach. “This effort was driven by the community. It was relevant then, and it’s still relevant now. When communities have a goal that is greater than each member or organization, then it’s really in everyone’s best interest to act together and be strategic.”

Last week, Auerbach and the original founding members of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy campaign published an article in The Body Pro calling for a renewed commitment to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (the current version of which extends to the year 2020). In the article, they share five lessons learned since implementing the Strategy and urge the current administration to prioritize HIV/AIDS as an area of national concern.

“We understand that there is a lot of sensitivity around highlighting what a previous administration has accomplished,” said Auerbach, as she acknowledged why the Trump administration may feel hesitant to tout the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

“We felt it was important to acknowledge this amazing thing that has happened that was so productive in harnessing the energy and drive of the whole AIDS community, including the government, toward very specific, measurable goals. But our main objective was to present what we’ve learned from this process to help guide what we all should be doing during this next administration, including re-committing to supporting the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.”

Read an excerpt of the op-ed below, and find the entire article here.  Read more on BETA about the programs and initiatives supported by the current National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and sign up for San Francisco AIDS Foundation Action Alerts to receive breaking policy news and participate in local and national HIV advocacy efforts.

To End AIDS in the United States, Stay True to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

By Judith Auerbach, Robert Bank, Chris Collins, JD Davids, Rebecca Haag, David Ernesto Munar, Dana van Gorder, Phill Wilson and A. Toni Young

Ten years ago, hundreds of organizations and individuals signed a petition calling on all presidential candidates to create a national AIDS strategy. We knew the approach to HIV in the U.S. had to change. If you read about AIDS in the paper, then it was likely about the horrifying scale of the global epidemic; the epidemic at home had largely become invisible. The national HIV response we saw was a patchwork: uncoordinated, without clear goals, underinvested where the challenge was most acute, with interventions delivered well below the scale necessary for impact. And the science of HIV prevention was changing dramatically without sufficient efforts to put it into practice.

By the end of 2007, most presidential candidates, including John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, had accepted the challenge to create a strategy. In June 2010, President Obama issued the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.

Five Things We Learned From Implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

1) A commitment to being strategic provides political cover to do tough things.

The Strategy itself was full of smart analysis of the epidemic and laudable goals, but its real impact came in how it was used. With strong leadership by Jeff Crowley, head of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), and his deputy Greg Millett, a series of epidemiologically necessary but politically challenging policy innovations were undertaken, each justified by the new Strategy…

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