By Irfan Shariff
Northwest Asian Weekly
National and local leaders on HIV/AIDS policy convened at the Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) last Wednesday, Dec. 9, to open discussion on a national HIV/AIDS strategy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assistant secretary of health Howard Koh and director of HHS Office of HIV/AIDS Policy (OHAP) Christopher Bates met with community members to help mobilize local efforts and gain insight into what different communities need.
Along with Memphis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Cleveland, Seattle was one of the five cities chosen by HHS to conduct a town hall meeting on the subject.
“This is an area known for its leadership in public health,” said Koh, also noting the disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS-related cases in the area.
Bob Wood from King County Public Health and HHS regional health administrator Patrick O’Carroll also gave presentations.
According to Wood, as many as 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the country, and up to 8,000 of these individuals reside in King County. Wood’s breakdown placed the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) community as 1 percent of the national number but 3 percent of the county’s number.
In the past, different communities of color received funding for HIV/AIDS outreach, said Teresita Batayola, CEO of Seattle’s International Community Health Services (ICHS).
“[However], priorities have changed,” she said. “Funding is [now] dependent on statistics.” She noted that statistics for HIV/AIDS-related cases in the API community are particularly hard to get.
“With the lack of funding, it is difficult to do any outreach or education,” said Batayola.
“There is a stigma attached to getting tested for fear of being labeled as a bad person,” she added. “People need to have awareness before coming to get tested.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified the domestic API community as an emerging group that is at risk for HIV infection.
Organizations like the Banyan Tree Project aim to combat different HIV/AIDS-related stigmas that surround the API community. The Banyan Tree Project is a national campaign funded by the CDC and others. It employs social media marketing to help its cause.
The Banyan Tree Project is the leading organization for the National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day observed by HHS on May 19. Since 2005, it has dedicated awareness to different communities across the country.
Batayola believes days like May 19 are only a start. The API community needs awareness projects that can be sustained.
President Barack Obama has made the development of a national HIV/AIDS strategy a high priority, says Koh.
According to the White House website, the President’s national strategy has three primary goals: reducing the number of HIV incidences, increasing access to care, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
Alongside the HHS town hall meetings, the President’s Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is also conducting a series of community discussions in 14 select cities that do not include Seattle.
Koh also notes that the current administration has made recent strides in HIV/AIDS policy, which include lifting the ban on HIV/AIDS-infected visitors to the United States, extending HIV testing benefits to people on Medicare, and extending the Ryan White Care Act of 1990, which brought approximately $9 million in care to the Seattle area this year. ♦
Irfan Shariff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.