Achieving Health Equity to End the Epidemics: Leadership

By Jacquelyn Clymore May 10, 2018

Leadership can take many forms. Some leaders are bold, charismatic, and inspiring. They are eager to stand up for their beliefs and rally others to their cause. Others work tirelessly behind the scenes to dismantle inequalities and show us that hard work and incremental changes can make a significant impact on systems and people’s lives. No matter the approach, the best leaders all share a forward-facing focus, a determination to achieve their goals and perhaps most importantly, a belief that the future can be better than the present. 

Over our 27-year history, NASTAD has been under the leadership of talented and passionate individuals with a common goal: end the intersecting epidemics of HIV and hepatitis. Under the guidance of board chairs, executive directors, NASTAD and health department staff, we’ve remained committed to this goal. In 2015, we expanded our mission statement to include “social justice” as a mechanism to end the intersecting epidemics of HIV, hepatitis, and other related conditions. Social determinants (e.g., stigma, racism, homophobia, misogyny, homelessness, etc.) influence health outcomes for people living with HIV and hepatitis, and we believe leaders must maintaina keen focus on achieving health equity in order to end the epidemics.

One of NASTAD’s remarkable leaders was Dr. Nicholas A. Rango, who directed the New York State AIDS Institute before his death from AIDS in 1993. Dr. Rango was a founding member of NASTAD, and aimed to bring together health departments from around the country to create a united voice in the fight against the HIV epidemic. 

Each year, we recognize an individual who exemplifies Dr. Rango’s qualities of superior intelligence, dedication, activism in government, and his impatience in leading the fight against the epidemics. In 2016, NASTAD awarded Dr. Mary Bassett’s impactful work towards achieving health equity. As the New York City Health Commissioner, she led projects and programs that addressed racism and discrimination in public health systems. Her commitment to achieving health equity for all was especially displayed in New York’s Ending AIDS Blueprint, which was rooted in social action.

Fighting social injustice is also a key attribute of a leader whose goal is to achieve health equity. It is imperative that a leader encourages individuals to speak out against prejudice and stand with vulnerable communities. Under the leadership of former NASTAD Board Chair DeAnn Gruber, NASTAD took a stand and pledged a commitment to Black lives by releasing the Black Lives Matter credo, which denounces systemic racism and discrimination in public health systems, and calls on NASTAD members to reimagine approaches through a social justice framework. 

NASTAD would not be the leading public health organization it is today without the brilliant individuals who laid down its foundation. To continue building on this foundation, I’m excited about the relaunch of NASTAD’s Minority Leadership Program, which will significantly invest and support the leadership development of state health department staff of color. I am thrilled to be NASTAD’s chair during this relaunch, and eager to learn about how we can amplify the voice and visibility of this leadership cohort. 

As board chair, it is my goal to listen to the communities who need us most and meet them where they are. Everyone deserves quality prevention, care, and treatment services; therefore, we must continue to create spaces where everyone’s voice is heard and validated. I am committed to leading NASTAD into a future where policies and programs represent and meet the needs of vulnerable communities. I am fortunate enough to have the support of determined and passionate individuals, both at home in North Carolina and nationally,  who also have this vision. Together, we will continue to fight in order to end the epidemics.