December 1 marks the 28th commemoration of World AIDS Day, and while we have progressed through several United States presidential administrations over these 28 years, this one marks a change of great significance. It is essential that many of the strides made in the current administration are continued and/or expanded to meet the needs of those with HIV and substance use issues. Many people are understandably concerned about what will happen in the fields of HIV, mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral health in the wake of the coming Trump Administration, as next steps have not yet been determined. As a means for moving forward with potential considerations and strategies, I spoke to Mr. Jesse Milan Jr., JD, president and CEO of AIDS United and a Fellow with Altarum Institute. Mr. Milan brings us messages of hope and actions we can take as we continue to work toward seeing an AIDS-free generation.
Altarum’s Behavioral Health and HIV team compiled questions for Mr. Milan, and an informal interview took place on November 22, 2016.
What is AIDS United’s focus now that that the United States’ administration is changing? Particularly, how is your Policy Action Center responding?
Mr. Milan: AIDS United is now focused on the new administration and new Congress. We are focused specifically around the continuation of Ryan White, housing for people with AIDS, and continued funding for prevention at the CDC. We are also working at addressing any changes or reforms to the Affordable Care Act and replacement strategies that may be offered by the new Congress. Lastly, we continue to consider advancing access to PrEP and addressing HIV criminalization issues.
What are key HIV/AIDS related policy issues for 2017 and beyond?
Mr. Milan: The continuation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) is a primary policy focus. We should think of NHAS as an American issue. It has galvanized the nation and has provided us with a vision for the future. It is not simply a piece of legislation. It was an executive effort from the White House. There are several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor, and many others that are involved in the NHAS, and all cabinet agencies should continue to stand behind the NHAS.
On that note, what changes, if any, are expected to the NHAS?
Mr. Milan: We’re waiting for new signs, and we’re hopeful. We’re all working very hard to make sure that the progress we’ve made under the NHAS is understood by the new Congress and administration.
What are thoughts on the shifting opioid crisis and what it means for HIV prevention efforts?
Mr. Milan: I describe it as a newly revealed crisis. It is very important that we continue to link it to the HIV epidemic. Substance users are at extremely high risk for HIV, and they still constitute many of the new HIV infections across genders and ethnicities. They are at risk for both HIV and viral hepatitis infections. We all need to understand that the recent federal policy change supporting syringe services program funding does not include dollars to purchase syringes.
If you were running a local agency that served the HIV/AIDs population, what would you focus on in the new year in preparation for the induction of the new administration in the white house?
Mr. Milan: I would prepare to tell my story of success and the story of my impact to all elected officials, my representatives in Congress and the Senate, and also to federal appointed officials so they can fully understand how important it is for national policies to continue in the right direction.
What can the American people do to be involved in HIV for World AIDS Day and beyond?
Mr. Milan: People can help with financial donations to support the expansion of policy work within the next 3-6 months. Policy work will be extremely important as the new administration takes office and the new Congress is convened.
Also, on March 27-28, AIDS United is hosting its annual AIDSWatch advocacy event. Advocates from around the nation are going to Washington, DC to be trained on how to advocate. We are expecting over 400 people, and they will be working directly in collaboration with their peers from across the nation. This year, new transgender voices will be represented through AIDS United’s new Transgender Leadership Program. This will be the biggest event in 10 years, and it is not too late to register.
AIDS United also has a Public Policy Committee (PPC). There are over 40 organization members from across the United States who provide HIV services in their communities. Interested individuals can look at the list of PPC members and volunteer directly with them or offer them financial support. The PPC is committed to advancing national policy for HIV/AIDS for all of us.
Now is the time to strengthen our determination to see the end of AIDS. HIV is not simply an issue that impacts the individual – it affects our families, our communities, our nation, and our world. As former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, “We live in a completely interdependent world, which simply means we cannot escape each other. How we respond to AIDS depends, in part, on whether we understand interdependence. It is not someone else’s problem. This is everybody’s problem.”
We’d like to congratulate Mr. Milan on his appointment as the new president and CEO of AIDS United, which was announced on November 28, 2016! It is a well-deserved appointment indeed.
 “Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but it is much less effective when not taken consistently.” http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html. Retrieved on November 30, 2016.