Top government officials convened at the White House Tuesday to unveil the Obama administration’s new blueprint for combating AIDS in America. Before a crowd of about 60, Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy Jeffrey Crowley and Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh rolled out both the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the strategy’s implementation plan.
Calling it “the first comprehensive AIDS strategy in history,” Secretary Sebelius introduced the plan’s four goals: a reduction in new HIV infection rates, increased access to care for people already living with HIV, a reduction in HIV-related disparities and a more coordinated national response to the AIDS epidemic. Calling the plan “aggressive,” Crowley said the administration hoped to see a 25 percent reduction in annual new infections by 2015. “I wish I could set that at fifty or seventy-five percent,” he said, “but that’s not realistic.” By that same year, officials also hope to increase by 20 percent the number of gay and bisexual men and African Americans with undetectable viral loads.
Overall, the plan is ambitious but attainable, especially because it’s not afraid to supplant political correctness with unwavering pragmatism. Consider this main tenet of the new strategy, the subtext of which speaks almost directly to the black community’s dismal AIDS statistics:
Not every person or group has an equal chance of becoming infected with HIV. Yet, for many years, too much of our Nation’s response has been conducted as though everyone is equally at risk for HIV infection. Stopping HIV transmission requires that we focus more intently on the groups and communities where the most cases of new infections are occurring.
Besides combating AIDS in the black community, the new strategy also makes it a point to attack the stigma associated with the disease. While the hope is to get “nonjudgmental support for people living with HIV,” other language mentions supporting “high risk communities” (read: gay and bisexual men).
In my estimation, eliminating much of the homophobia that often underpins anti-HIV sentiments is going to be difficult in African American circles, particularly because so many black Americans self-identify as Christian and Muslim, two religions not known for their openness to gays and lesbians. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.