NMAC Connection Special: Why I Wrote an Open Letter to the Director of the CDC

Why I Wrote an Open Letter to the Director of the CDC

For the first time in the epidemic’s history, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes we can end the HIV epidemic in America.  At Dr. Redfield’s first address to CDC staff, not only did he articulate this vision, but also the possibility that it can be done within three to seven years. NMAC does not agree with the new director on all the issues, but we are committed to working with CDC to make this dream real.

Last week NMAC released Blueprint II: Policies to bring biomedical HIV prevention to all the communities highly impacted by HIV. This document can be downloaded for free here. Like Dr. Redfield, NMAC is a big believer in PrEP, PEP, U=U, and TasP. This is the science needed to bend the curve of new infections, support the health of People Living with HIV (PLWH), and end the epidemic. However, it can only happen with leadership, planning, and money. NMAC strategy is to ask for all three. We plan to use Dr. Redfield’s vision as the justification to ask Congress for more HIV funding, for HHS to put together a federal biomedical HIV prevention plan to end the epidemic, and everyone’s leadership to make that a reality.

In a world that is so divided, it will be interesting to see if we can put aside differences to end an epidemic. I have my doubts, but this is the best opportunity we have to move forward. If we don’t make an effort to grab this moment, our movement will be stuck with level funding, 38,000 new cases a year, and no clear federal pathway for ending the epidemic.

NMAC gave an olive branch to the new Director when we invited him to the National Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit. We chose the Summit over the United States Conference on AIDS because we believe it is the place where we have the most agreement. NMAC spoke to Dr. Redfield prior to his appointment and heard directly about his belief in biomedical HIV prevention. We are going to use part of USCA to put together a strategy for the Summit, to listen and talk with constituents about the right messages, practices, funding, and collaboration to end the epidemic.  ore communication will follow.

We can’t do this alone. It’s going to take a movement to make this work. This is the first bridge we’ve had to an administration that has many of us concerned. Deciding to cross the bridge is a test of our leadership. For some it will be impossible. For others it will be impossible not to. There is no clear right answer, but NMAC has always been committed to working with the federal government regardless of the administration. This is also our test.

NMAC will cross the bridge leading with race. We believe in biomedical HIV prevention; however, we are very concerned that it is not equivalently reaching all the communities highly impacted by HIV. The majority of people living with HIV are people of color and the majority of new infections happen to people of color, yet the vast majority of people on PrEP are white, we have a problem.

This is a real test of our movement’s leadership. Where is the line? What are we willing to do to ensure healthcare, medications, and wrap around services for all people living with HIV? What are we willing to do to end an epidemic?  That’s why I wrote the letter to Dr. Redfield. I will keep you informed when/if I hear back from him.

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata
Executive Director