Biden Appoints Global HIV / AIDS Coordinator, Adds Members To Team

WASHINGTON – With the goal of defeating HIV by 2025 nationally and pledging to redouble efforts to fight the disease globally, President Joe Biden has put in place officials to make that happen.

The White House kicked off the week with the announcement that John Nkengasong, who was a senior global health official at the Centers for Disease Control, would be appointed roving ambassador and coordinator of the US government’s activities to fight HIV / AIDS in the world at the State Department.

Meanwhile, leadership on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV / AIDS, also known as PACHA, was restructured in August as the Biden administration pursued the health plan to end the epidemic of HIV started under the previous administration.

Carl Schmid, who was PACHA’s co-chair during the Trump years, no longer holds that position and has been replaced by Marlene McNeese, a woman of color and deputy deputy director of the Houston Department of Health. John Wiesman, former Washington State Secretary of Health, will continue to serve as the co-chair.

McNeese is one of eight new members of PACHA. The others are:

  • Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS;
  • Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign;
  • Raniyah Copeland, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute;
  • Leo Moore, medical director of clinical services for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health;
  • Kayla Quimbley, National Ambassador for Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day for Advocates for Youth;
  • Adrian Shanker, Founder and Executive Director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center; and
  • Darrell Wheeler, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY

The changes underscore the new approach to HIV / AIDS promised by Biden during his presidential campaign. One of them is to defeat HIV / AIDS nationally by 2025, five years earlier than the End the HIV Epidemic initiative plan that began under the Trump administration. . Whether Biden achieves this ambitious goal remains to be seen.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, welcomed Nkengasong’s appointment to the global AIDS post upon hearing the announcement.

“John Nkengasong’s vast experience in the fight against HIV, combined with his position as Africa’s leading expert in the fight against Ebola, COVID-19 and more, positions him extremely well to guide the United States’ global contribution to the end of the AIDS pandemic, ”said Byanyima. “Today, the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics are colliding in communities around the world, and the threat of a resurgence of the AIDS pandemic is very real. We need the kind of bold thinking and commitment he’s brought throughout his career. “

While the global AIDS nomination will play a role in international agendas, such as PEPFAR and the United States’ participation in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the PACHA nominations will focus on outlook national and global.

Schmid, executive director of the HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute, said that despite the change in leadership, he would retain his role as head of the subcommittee on the End the HIV Epidemic initiative.

“It’s good,” Schmid said. “They named a lot of African-American community, the Latin community [members] and they said they were going to rotate the co-chairs, ”Schmid said. “I think it’s good that they are putting in new blood and new leadership.”

Schmid was very skeptical of Biden’s ability to meet his goal of beating HIV by 2025 – as opposed to the 2030 target set by the previous administration – but said the PACHA realignment was ” not at all ”related to this.

“I think I was replaced because the Biden administration wanted the leadership of PACHA to be more representative of the current outbreak in the United States,” Schmid said.

Schmid, however, refused to go back on his prediction that Biden would not be able to achieve his 2025 goal.

“I think you will find broad agreement within the HIV community that it is not possible to end HIV by 2025,” Schmid said. “There is just too much work to do and too much change to do. “

The new appointments will add to the group of people Biden appoints committed to the fight against HIV / AIDS, including Harold Phillips, who was appointed in June to lead the House’s National AIDS Policy Office. Blanche after that position remained vacant for the duration of the Trump administration.

‘Too early’ to assess national efforts to defeat HIV

Those nationally appointed will focus on the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, a plan with a strong focus on PrEP as an HIV prevention tool with the goal of reducing new incidents of infection by 90% by 10 years. The program was launched in 2019.

Although Congress has earmarked money for the initiative and last week the Department of Health and Human Services distributed $ 48 million to HRSA centers as part of the effort, experts say ‘there is not enough data available to say whether or not the program has been effective.

Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said data is not yet available on whether new HIV incidents are reduced as the latest data is dated. of the 2019 financial year.

“From the point of view of the timeline of the initiative’s goals, it’s too early, we wouldn’t know anyway, but even given the context and what’s happened from the start, I don’t know. just not how you would rate it, “Kates said.” What I think is important is the idea of ​​new dedicated funding. This is the first new funding for HIV in years that has been forwarded to local jurisdictions [and] has the potential to catalyze new and better responses, but we don’t yet know what happened.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has been the top priority for health officials around the world, also obscures any potential assessment of the Initiative to End the HIV Epidemic.

Daniel Bruner, senior director of policy at the Washington-based Whitman-Walker Institute, said the coronavirus was “having a huge impact on medical care,” including efforts against HIV / AIDS.

“The pandemic has also necessitated substantial changes in federal, state and local resources in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID,” Bruner said. “Therefore, it is premature to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of the EHE initiative. The federal government has underscored its continued commitment to the EHE initiative, and Whitman-Walker remains committed to this work as well. “

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