Year in Review: Engaging Communities to End the HIV and Hepatitis Epidemics

By Maria Courogen May 18, 2015

As I began my tenure as NASTAD’s chair in May 2014, I knew a key objective of continuing the great work my predecessors began would need to involve creating more opportunities for meaningful community engagement to further advance our shared mission of raising the bars of the HIV and hepatitis care continuums in all jurisdictions, for all populations. To further this conversation, we developed and released a policy statement on Strategic Community Engagement to End the HIV and Hepatitis Epidemics to promote innovative health department community engagement strategies. We firmly believe that community engagement is an essential process in the implementation of high-impact HIV prevention as changes in the health care landscape and sexual health service ecosystems take shape. In particular, the statement is a call for health departments to scale-up opportunities for community engagement and re-tool the community engagement process.

In addition to our focus on meaningfully engaging communities, we addressed other barriers to effectively responding to the HIV and hepatitis epidemics in our jurisdictions, including increased reporting burden. To spur action on this issue by our federal partners, we released an updated Federal Reporting Requirements Table and Chart and accompanying report to document how federal reporting requirements undermine the domestic response to the HIV and hepatitis epidemic. While some progress has been made to streamline federal reporting requirements, health departments have yet to experience any significant reduction in the overall administrative effort. In fact, in some instances, we have seen the introduction of new or expanded reporting requirements associated with existing funding streams.

As states continued to confront the challenges of our nation’s changing health care landscape, NASTAD played a critical role in supporting HIV and hepatitis programs in navigating these shifts. NASTAD convened the Ryan White and Affordable Care Act Regional Meetings in four cities to assist health department staff with transition planning and implementation for programs such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). We also published data demonstrating the essential role the Ryan White Program, specifically ADAP, plays for people living with HIV.

NASTAD was also successful in its application for two cooperative agreements to expand and intensify the high quality technical assistance it provides to states. The first one is a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the Modernizing HIV Prevention Project to provide health departments with state-of-the-art information, training and technical assistance to strengthen their capacity to deliver High-Impact Prevention strategies. The second cooperative agreement is a partnership with HRSA to build the Center for Engaging Black MSM Across the Care Continuum (CEBACC). CEBACC continues NASTAD’s long history of addressing the HIV epidemic among gay men/MSM. The goal of this new national center is to identify, compile, and disseminate best practices and effective models for HIV care and treatment across the HIV care continuum in order to increase the capacity, quality, and effectiveness of healthcare providers to link and retain Black gay men/MSM in HIV clinical care.

It is vital that as a collective team of AIDS Directors and community partners and members that we work together and understand that we are responsible for building out an innovative service system that connects across all sectors of the medical care and public health environment that works effectively to eliminate HIV and hepatitis. My time as NASTAD chair was both challenging and enjoyable during this phase of our fight to end HIV and hepatitis. After working more closely with our Executive Committee and NASTAD staff over the last year, I am more than confident that our strong leadership in the U.S. and around the world will continue to play a pivotal role in helping us achieve a generation free of HIV and hepatitis.