Obama names gay man head of AIDS policy office

Posted on 03 Mar 2009 at 12:01am
By Staff and Wire Reports

AIDS advocates pleased president filled office Bush had left vacant, but African-American AIDS organizations cautious over Crowley’s lack of ties to black community

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has selected a senior researcher from Georgetown University to direct his Office of National AIDS Policy, the White House announced Thursday, Feb. 26.

Jeffrey S. Crowley will lead an office tasked with coordinating U.S. government efforts to reduce HIV infection in the United States and leading treatment of Americans with HIV/AIDS.

Crowley, who holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, has worked since 2000 as senior research scholar at Georgetown University’s health policy institute.

"Jeffrey Crowley brings the experience and expertise that will help our nation address the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis and help my administration develop policies that will serve Americans with disabilities," Obama said in a statement. "In both of these key areas, we continue to face serious challenges and we must take bold steps to meet them."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last summer that it had been underestimating new HIV cases in the U.S. and that a better blood test and new statistical methods showed roughly 56,300 new HIV infections in 2006 — about a 40 percent increase from the 40,000 annual estimate used for the past dozen years.

In a statement released shortly after Crowley’s appointment was announced, the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition called him "a trusted leader and ally" and that he has "demonstrated time and again through his intellectual capacity, advocacy, and personal and professional relationships a keen understanding of the concerns of black gay men, the primary issues of the HIV epidemic, and health care access in the United States. Notably, he played a significant role in protecting Medicaid services in the budget battles of 1994 – 1996."

NBGMAC chair Rudolph Carn, who is also executive director of National AIDS Education Services for Minorities, said his organization looks forward to working with Crowley and applauded Obama for "honoring his commitment to those affected by the HIV epidemic."

And NBGMAC’s policy advisor A. Cornelius Baker said, "I have known Jeff and respected his work for nearly two decades. He is a tremendous asset in our work to provide people with HIV and the uninsured with access to high-quality care. This is a good day for people with AIDS and the disability community."

But the NBGMAC statement also called on the Obama administration to " promote the leadership of black gay men to senior positions as the Administration continues its transition," and expressed concern "that both the forthcoming National AIDS Strategy and other programmatic efforts make a priority of addressing the needs of this core population within the HIV epidemic."

And the National Black AIDS Institute issued a statement expressing reservations over Crowley’s lack of ties to the African-American communities, where HIV infection rates continued to climb.

While applauding Obama’s decision to fill the position that former President Bush had left vacant for two years, and applauding Crowley’s experience in public health research and his expertise in Medicaid policy, Black AIDS Institute CEO Phil Wilson noted, "AIDS in America today is a black disease."

Wilson added, "We [African-Americans] are less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet we are nearly 50 percent of the new cases, 50 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS, and roughly 50 percent of the annual HIV/AIDS deaths in the U.S."

The Black AIDS Institute statement went on to say: "Mr. Crowley’s dearth of experience in black communities is reason for pause. Although we would have preferred the president’s appointment to this post be someone with stronger ties to black communities, even with the most intelligent leadership, the federal government cannot conquer AIDS on its own.

"The Black AIDS Institute urges Mr. Crowley and the administration to reach out to black leaders and communities to join forces in a common effort to reduce new HIV infections and AIDS deaths. We also call on traditional black leaders to initiate an HIV/AIDS dialogue with the administration.

"Finally, the Institute pledges to do all it can to assist Mr. Crowley and President Obama turn the tide against HIV in our community and our country."

Obama’s 2010 budget proposal released Thursday pledged increased resources to domestic HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, though no dollar figure was specified.

Crowley previously worked at the National Association of People with AIDS. His areas of expertise include Medicaid policy.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, welcomed Crowley’s appointment in a statement. "We need a national AIDS strategy to better coordinate and guide our response to this devastating disease," she said.

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