Women Engaging and Responding to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

On July 13, 2010, the President unveiled the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States and its accompanying Federal Implementation Plan. The Strategy was the result of many town hall meetings throughout the nation to engage Americans in discussions about HIV/AIDS. Many people gave us recommendations based on the need within their communities and the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) listened to the people in developing both the Strategy and the Federal Implementation Plan.

Given the fact that the HIV epidemic impacts women and girls directly and indirectly, the HHS Office on Women’s Health, in collaboration with the Office on HIV/AIDS Policy and the Office on Population Affairs convened more than 70 women leaders, who are HIV/AIDS experts In Washington, DC at HHS on September 10, 2010 to discuss the Strategy and the Plan. They were indeed elated that the Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr Howard Koh welcomed them to the meeting and responded to their questions about the Strategy and Plan.

The air was full of excitement and energy as the women leaders from the north, south, east, west, rural and urban areas, and across all racial and ethnic groups came together to discuss HIV/AIDS. As with many meeting with women who have not seen each other for a while, there were conversations about the newest activity that their organizations were working on and some wonderful successes that they had accomplished. During the day the women took the purpose of the meeting to heart and changed the structure of the meetings so that they could work in smaller groups to reflect a greater magnitude of specific discussions and recommendations around reducing HIV infections, increasing access to care, improving health outcomes  and reducing HIV-related health disparities for women and girls. Many times, the discussions among the groups were so lively and engaging that it was hard for me to stay in only one group. Needless to say, the report back to the main group showed such a great wealth of information and diversity in the scope of what they see as the most important issues for women and girls.

The women really bonded together and want to continue the dialogue through monthly conference calls, web cats and another face to face meeting within six months. In the meantime, we will share the contact information so that they can continue networking and sharing their lessons learned and successful experiences. A report of this meeting will be shared with them and Dr. Koh. We are committed to harnessing this energy and keeping them engaged in actualizing the critically important National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.

Frances E. Ashe-Goins is Acting Director of the Office on Women's Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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