Unite to End the Epidemics

By Shanell McGoy May 24, 2017

Ask the question, “Ready to End the Epidemics?,” Answer, “Unite to End the Epidemics!”

I am overjoyed and extremely honored to assume the role of Chair of NASTAD’s Board. For the first time in history, we have the tools necessary to make ending the HIV and Hepatitis epidemics a real possibility within our lifetime. I hope to move us closer to this noble goal over the next year.

I’m humbled to build on the foundation that has been laid by my predecessor, Dr. DeAnn Gruber. Her challenge, “Ready to End the HIV and Viral Hepatitis Epidemics,” called on U.S. health departments to accelerate our progress towards a future free from HIV and hepatitis. The challenge stressed the importance of innovation, vision, and commitment to strengthening programs to prevent new infections and better meet the needs of people living with and at risk for infection. DeAnn readied us during her tenure with the addition of the local jurisdictions directly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the NASTAD membership, a first in the organization’s 26-year history.

I’m excited to build on the foundation with my Chair’s Challenge, “Unite to End the Epidemics.” It calls on health departments to stop allowing the imperfect nature of our systems to divide us and unite to further the necessary work to put in place program and policy building blocks needed to implement impactful HIV and hepatitis prevention and care programs. This is about more than simply providing access, but about transforming systems to provide opportunities for everyone to thrive and experience lifelong wellness, especially the most vulnerable among us, including racial and ethnic communities and other groups disproportionately impacted by the epidemic—such as gay men/MSM (particularly young Black and Latino gay men), transgender women, and people who inject drugs.

I’ve discussed my love of quilting on this blog before, which I inherited from my grandmothers. When I was pondering this year’s Chair’s Challenge, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the beautiful gift my grandmothers gave to me, as well as the gracious gift of my ancestors, Sankofa. Sankofa, meaning "go back and get it," is represented either with a stylized heart shape or by a bird turning its head backwards to take an egg from its back. The Sankofa bird appears frequently in traditional African culture and art, and has been adopted as an important symbol throughout the African Diaspora representing the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.

Sankofa, much like my grandmothers’ quilts—quilts they pieced and I quilted and binded—is the essence of the 2017-2018 Chair’s Challenge. We’ve made many advances in our efforts over the 30 plus years since the start of the epidemic. We must continue to reflect and build on the progress of the past for the future. Now is the time for us to unite in a common purpose, evermore, to end the epidemics. Over the next year we will unite to:

  1. Scale up the current year’s work on NASTAD’s core competencies with a special focus on better meeting the needs of key populations.
  2. Strengthen our partnerships between local and state jurisdictions, national partners, and internationally.
  3. Secure mission-driven investments, with a special dues funds to expand key NASTAD programmatic activities.
  4. Share success stories of what motivates our members to do this work and use our stories as a tool for advocacy

Albeit important, this is about more than simply providing access to insurance or any service in our arsenal. It’s about transforming systems, engaging, respecting, and partnering with the individuals we meet in our roles as public servants, to provide maximum opportunities for everyone to thrive and experience lifelong wellness—especially the most vulnerable among us in every corner of the U.S. and across the globe. I’m truly excited to see what we can accomplish together once we UNITE.

Let me ask again, “Ready to End the Epidemics?,”

Unequivocally and with all the passion you can muster, please answer, “Unite to End the Epidemics!”