On Tuesday, December 8, the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and the Council on Women and Girls co-hosted a Women and HIV Meeting at the White House. The purpose of the meeting was to examine effective approaches to lowering HIV incidence in women, reducing racial disparities in infection rates and access to care, and improving services for women and girls living with HIV.
It was an insightful discussion on lessons learned specific to women and will help inform the development of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). This Strategy has three primary goals: reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
Meeting attendees included representatives from organizations across the country, including national advocacy groups, service providers, state and county government, Federal agencies, and researchers. Women living with HIV were well represented.
After being welcomed by ONAP Director Jeffrey Crowley, the meeting participants heard remarks from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the new Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D. Both relayed their personal and professional commitment to strengthening our nation’s response to HIV/AIDS. They also addressed why women must be a priority population in the NHAS because of the disease’s disproportionate impact on women.
We had an excellent panel of presenters at the meeting, which covered racial/ethnic and gender disparities related to HIV/AIDS and gender-based and community-level prevention strategies. Dr. Ada Adimora of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill described how social networks and factors like incarceration rates among Black men influence the risk of HIV infection among Black women. Dawn Averitt Bridge of The Well Project proposed integrated approaches to HIV, STI, and reproductive health care and stressed the need for more research to identify effective interventions.
Following the presentations, a panel discussion addressed HIV and related civil rights issues, and noted how health insurance reform is critical for improving access to HIV care and treatment. Comments from audience members highlighted that people living with HIV still face discrimination, and that there’s a need for increased availability of female-controlled prevention methods. The stimulating discussion raised key issues for ONAP to consider in developing the NHAS – including the need for HIV education to help health professionals provide culturally sensitive care.
Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, made remarks about President Obama’s commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. And Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, provided closing remarks inviting future public engagement on HIV and related issues.
Bringing together a diverse group of experts to share ideas was a great way to help ONAP move ahead on developing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy that prioritizes women’s health issues. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on this issue.
Adelle Simmons is a Policy Advisor in the White House Office of National AIDS Policy