The White House released today its much-awaited National HIV/AIDS Strategy. This bit of wonkery is a really big deal. While D.L. Hughley is spreading “down low” myths, we all need to pay attention to what could be a huge turning point in U.S. HIV/AIDS policy. The U.S., shockingly, has never had a coordinated plan for responding to the domestic epidemic, which is today larger than it has ever been, contrary to popular understanding. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to fix that oversight, and national AIDS activists have since made keeping him honest on the promise a primary concern. Today, the White House made good.
The 60-page plan lays out ambitious goals: Cutting new infections by 25 percent by 2015 and getting 85 percent of people newly diagnosed into appropriate care within three months of diagnosis. Importantly, it codifies the fact that resources toward these should be targeted where the need’s most dire. African Americans now account for roughly half of new infections every year and roughly half of all people living with HIV/AIDS today. The plan reinforces the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emphasis on getting more people tested to reduce infections. It does not, however, call for more resources to be targeted, as the NY Times has reported. That means Washington will go on shifting money around to plug in holes, but at least the shifting will be coordinated now.
It’s notable that, as the process of writing the strategy unfolded, advocates largely applauded the White House’s commitment to community involvement. And Obama’s AIDS czar, Jeffrey Crowley, has widespread respect within the AIDS policy community, as does Crowley’s staff. The questions, of course, will be in implementation. Will Obama flex the muscle necessary to move both Congress and the many agencies involved in HIV to more aggressive action? Does Crowley have the political skills and clout to push both the president and the stated agenda? We’ll see.