May 3, 2017
Last week, along with other federal leaders, I had the opportunity to address the 2017 Synchronicity Conference. It is a national conference organized by Health HIV that focuses on HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). This year, for the first time, the conference also addressed LGBT health. The conference gathered several hundred participants from across the country in Arlington, Virginia, including clinicians, service providers, advocates, and others working in health centers, AIDS services organizations (ASOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), health departments, and elsewhere.
The conference provided an important opportunity to more closely examine the interconnections between HIV, HCV, and LGBT health and how to best to respond to them. This is different from how most of us spend our time working. Somehow, it seems to be much easier for us to focus on one issue at a time, which causes us to miss opportunities to work across programs, to do a better job serving our clients' needs, and reduce the burden on them to schedule, travel to and from, and attend appointments with multiple providers in different locations.
When we look beyond the silos, we can see the big picture and solutions to some of the challenges. We can better understand the full range of the needs, strengths, and abilities of the people we serve, and envision new ways of working that are more efficient, effective, and sustainable. Participating in the opening plenary session was energizing. It gave me an opportunity to look past the defeats and challenges, and to reflect on the synchronicity that I see all around lately. I see these meaningful coincidences in the scientific advances in HIV prevention and care, in our ability to cure HCV, and in the growing scientific literature on LGBT health that has helped us identify, understand, and work to address health disparities affecting sexual and gender minorities.
Our panel session focused on how federal agencies and national strategies are syncing to improve HIV, HCV, and LGBT health outcomes. It was an impressive group of federal leaders from across HHS that included:
Each of the panelists addressed progress that was being made and the challenges that remain. They brought their agency's perspective on the issues as well as their own experience working on these issues in careers that have spanned decades. It was especially good to hear from most of the presenters about the ways that they are integrating these lessons learned in ongoing training, service delivery, and other work. Some of the points that stood out to me were:
Finally, some of the speakers' remarks underscored the vital role of partnerships among federal agencies and programs as well as with state and local partners. This discussion focused on the federal responses to HIV, HCV, and LGBT health and echoing a conference theme of finding innovative ways to collaborate to address those issues, my colleagues pointed to a number of current cross-agency and even cross-departmental activities underway to drive improvements in the conference's health issues of focus:
It is important to note that the latter three of those collaborative activities, as well as parts of the RWHAP hepatitis C activity, are supported by investments from the Secretary's Minority AIDS Initiative Fund (SMAIF), underscoring the Fund's important roles in promoting innovation, addressing critical emerging issues, and fostering collaborations across Federal agencies and programs. As our presentations highlighted, science has created new opportunities to prevent and treat HIV and to cure viral hepatitis through collecting and sharing the best available data and collaborating to leverage the strengths and reach of various programs, we can improve our responses to HIV, HCV, and LGBT health at the local, state, and federal levels.
Richard Wolitski, Ph.D., is director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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