Service providers are optimistic about holistic approach, but want to see the money to back up plan
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The White House’s new National AIDS Strategy, released July 13, is getting good reviews from AIDS service organizations in North Texas.
The policy includes plans on how to reduce new infections, how to increase access to health care and how to improve the outcome for people living with HIV. It takes a holistic approach to AIDS, bringing resources from around the community together and recognizing the need for transportation, food and housing as well as medical treatment.
Its goals also include eliminating the stigma still attached to HIV/AIDS.
“This White House is more systemic,” said Raeline Nobles, executive director of AIDS Arms. “[They know that] when one part of the system is weak, the entire system breaks down. You have to reach out into the greater community.”
Nobles noted the focus on reducing the infection rate by 25 percent.
“I think the strategy is very aggressive,” she said. “A 25 percent drop is a huge drop.”
Still, she wondered how the plan would be funded.
“Healthcare reform will provide some answers, but not until 2014 and that’s a long time in the middle of an epidemic,” she said.
Steven Pace, executive director of AIDS Interfaith Network, said “What I hope emerges is renewed outreach and prevention because those were so destroyed under the Bush administration.”
And Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS services of Dallas commended the plan’s “recognition of the importance of housing for overall health. … Housing has the attention of policymakers and is included for the first time.”
Maison attended a White House meeting in December with Jeffrey S. Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. Four assistants to the president, officials from HUD and the Health Resources and Services Administration also attended.
When Maison read how their concerns were addressed in the strategy, he said he was delighted they were listening.
Nobles also was impressed with the process by which the administration put the strategy together.
She said that at least once every other week she received an e-mail asking her opinion.
Steve Dutton, executive director of Samaritan House in Fort Worth, pointed out three things he especially liked about the strategy.
“It’s important that housing is integrated into the plan,” he said. “I like the call to educating all Americans about the disease. And prevention is more than just condoms.”
He said this was the first administration that gathered information from experts and used that to formulate a strategy. He said he was impressed by the call for federal agencies to work closely with local agencies.
Like other agency directors, Dutton worried about funding.
He said the president made it clear in his executive summary of the document that this is not a budget document.
“But it clearly establishes national priorities,” Dutton said. “That’s very impressive. It’s been a long time since leadership asked people on the street, ‘What do you think?’”
Bret Camp from Nelson Tebedo Clinic was cautiously optimistic.
“It’s good that we finally have a plan,” he said. “I would like to see money behind it.”
Camp liked the idea of collaboration among faith-based groups, government agencies, the medical community and service organizations.
“That makes the continuum of prevention services seamless,” he said.
Camp pointed to the Stomp Out Syphilis program at Resource Center Dallas that works well with faith-based organizations throughout the community.
“The state holds that program up as a model,” he said.
Allan Gould, executive director of AIDS Outreach Center in Fort Worth, said the plan had the right goals for halting the spread of HIV. He said that over the last five to 10 years, most people acted as though the AIDS epidemic was over, but, “AIDS is still a huge problem.”
Gould said that the two things to watch are how the plan is implemented and where the money is coming from. The federal government funds Tarrant County and other areas with fewer than 2,000 cases of AIDS differently than cities like Dallas with more people infected with HIV.
“Small agencies will close,” Gould said.
But his reading of the strategy is that it is a fresh approach.
“It’s a health issue, not a moral issue,” he said. “The plan takes a holistic approach.”
He said the president sounded pragmatic when he announced the strategy, admitting he didn’t have all the answers.
Gould said that for the first time, ASOs wouldn’t have to wait for a change in administration to get rid of a policy or an approach that isn’t working.
But Gould laughed at one of the main goals — to reduce the stigma of AIDS.
He said you can’t tell people how to think, but he thought it was better to have that as policy than not.
Getting the prevention message out there once again, Gould said, was among the most important pieces of the new plan.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.