On Wednesday, August 7th, we were thrilled convene a forum to discuss a collective response to the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). A group of local and national HIV/AIDS all-stars gathered at the Swedish Medical Center’s Cherry Hill location as part of a public listening session on the national strategy. Dr. Grant Colfax, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy in Washington D.C., was the featured guest.
Dr. Colfax’s stop in Seattle was part of a national tour to see how communities on the ground were rolling out the national strategy. He was particularly interested on how the Affordable Care Act will help meet NHAS goals and improve the health and wellness of people living with HIV.
The event was hosted in partnership with Swedish Medical Center and Lifelong AIDS Alliance.
The forum began with a recap of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which, if you are not familiar with it, identifies four key goals: 1) Reduce number of infections 2) Increase access to care for people living with HIV 3) Reduce HIV related health disparities and 4) Achieve a more coordinated national response to the HIV epidemic.
There was much talk on-stage of what is known as the “Treatment Cascade” which is a visual way of showing what percentage of individuals are diagnosed with HIV, linked to care, taking anti-retroviral medications, and have a suppressed viral load and are therefore experiencing the full benefits of medical care and treatment. King County fares better than the national average, with 85% of people living with HIV/AIDS diagnosed and aware of their status (versus the national average of 83%) and 58% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS have suppressed viral loads (national average is 26%). We know that when an individual’s viral loads are suppressed, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others.
Dr. Colfax also made an interesting point about making smarter investments in HIV/AIDS programs when he pointed out a study conducted by The Center for Disease Control in Philadelphia. The study showed that the cost per new HIV infection averted is significantly higher in behavioral intervention programs, like targeted prevention education and outreach to at-risk communities, than in HIV testing programs.
There was also discussion on how the Affordable Care Act will greatly impact persons living with HIV. Nearly 30% of people living with HIV do not have health coverage. Medications are costly, and when not taken, quality of life diminishes and the likelihood of spreading the infection increases.
With this new legislation, there will be no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, such as HIV, and more people will have access to coverage by expanding Medicaid eligibility. This is an incredibly significant milestone for people living with chronic conditions across the country!
In addition to a presentation from Dr. Colfax, we heard from Erick Seelbach of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Maria Courogen of the Washington State Department of Health, as well as Seattle Mayoral Candidate Ed Murray.
Following the presentations, Randall H. Russell, Lifelong’s CEO, moderated a panel that included Michael Ninburg, Executive Director of the Hepatitis Education Project; Matthew Golden, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health-Seattle & King County HIV/STD Program; James Redel, consumer; Jane Beyer, the Assistant Secretary in the Aging and Disability Services at DSHS; and Laura Treadway of Lifelong AIDS Alliance.
More information on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy can be found here.