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Thank you, Friends

Mark IshaugDear Friends:

I am writing to share the bittersweet news that I am leaving AIDS United at the end of February.  I am returning to Chicago full-time, where I will be the CEO of Thresholds, Illinois’s oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of people with severe and persistent mental illness.

The AIDS United Board of Trustees has named Senior Vice President Victor Barnes Interim CEO, and a board search committee will immediately begin the process for selecting a permanent President and CEO.

AIDS United has had an incredible inaugural year, and remains in the strongest possible hands.  Your hands! You are the fabulous trustees, brilliant staff, innovative grantees, resourceful community partners, fierce advocates, generous donors, dedicated supporters, and Team to End AIDS runners who made 2011 year a resounding success.  Your collective good energy, hard work, and commitment will ensure that AIDS United soars in 2012 and beyond.

And, while I will be employed by a non-HIV/AIDS-specific organization for the first time in 25 years, I am certainly not leaving the fight against AIDS.  I never would.  I never could!  I will continue to support AIDS United, and volunteer with the incredible HIV/AIDS organizations in Chicago that I have had the honor to be connected with for many, many years.  I won’t leave the fight until the fight is over.

I want to thank each and every one of you for all you do to bring us closer to a nation without AIDS.

You have inspired me, supported me, challenged me and shown me that an AIDS-free generation is within our reach.  Your vision and your commitment have carried me, will continue to carry AIDS United as it continues in its unwavering commitment to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.  It truly is in your hands!

In awe and admiration, and with love and deep thanks,

Team To End AIDS Logo

Mark Ishaug

President & CEO

Marching to the beat on MLK: Team Chicago at COIP

“Why is the issue of equality still so far from solution in America, a nation that professes itself to be democratic, inventive, hospitable to new ideas, rich, productive and awesomely powerful? …[The answer, is that], despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially. … [To solve the issue of equality, there must be] a revolution of values… .The whole structure of American life must be changed.” –“A Testament of Hope,” Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

This is an uncomfortable idea to meditate on after a successful day of service!  The immediate implication is that painting a wall is not a substantial step toward equality. It is even arguable that small acts of service like painting at a community organization are a part of the problem. They do not directly challenge the structure of American life, and can undermine this mission if upheld as the ideal model of service.

These are uncomfortable ideas to ponder, but it is necessary to do so if we are to honor Dr. King’s legacy: Yes, he had a Dream. Yes, we can call him a drum major for justice. We fall by the wayside, however, when we don’t work to make the dream a reality, or only sample the beat of his drum.

King’s imperative is relevant to Team Chicago’s service-work at Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP). COIP (est. 1986) is an outreach initiative located on Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood that serves substance users . The services COIP provides include: street outreach; syringe exchange; population-led research projects; counseling & testing for infectious diseases associated with substance use, including HIV; drug abuse & risk reduction counseling; and a program that enhances linkages to care for HIV positive women exiting jail.

TeamChicago_MLKDay_3-web

Painting the COIP office was an encouragement to staff working in ways that promote an anti-racist, economically & socially just society. Such encouragement is vital to the justice movement. Our service was not “insufficient”. Even still, we cannot ignore that painting walls is on par with advocating for the rights of PLWHA. So, what room is there for painting walls in King’s Dream? What does a distant act of service like this mean?

If we were to discount our time on the walls, we’d pigeon-hole service into the heroic, the non-quotidian. This is not what Dr. King called for. Instead, he asked us to practice service in every day life. Note his argument from Where Do We Go from Here?:

“Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook… . … When Negroes looked for… the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared.” –”Where Do We Go from Here?”  Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

Though Dr. King specifically speaks on the years immediately after the Civil Rights Movement, his point is one not bound to this historical moment: It is not enough to do the large, made-for-TV acts of service. As service providers in the HIV field, it is not enough for us to care only about counseling and testing. We must care about the quotidian acts of service that keep the movement motivated, organized, together.

Painting walls at COIP is a show of support; a nod of affirmation. These are necessary and crucial to the continuation of the work. It is the practice needed to move from working for justice, to living for justice.

The Time Is Now

photo of Ronald JohnsonAIDS United’s 2012 Policy Priorities

By Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, AIDS United

We are less than two weeks into 2012, and it is already shaping up to be a pivotal one for HIV/AIDS. The end of 2011 saw the scientific advances that gave us a real vision for an AIDS-free generation, but also saw the deplorable reinstatement of the ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs. The International AIDS Conference will be in Washington D.C. in July, smack dab in the middle of the Presidential election season.

We are in for a bumpy ride, and AIDS United fully intends to take a leadership role in steering the course of that ride. And part of steering that course will be to maximize our core strengths of national advocacy, regional organizing and strategic grantmaking to ensure sound HIV/AIDS policy that helps people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the United States access the life-saving prevention, care and treatment services that they need and deserve.

Our regional and national advocacy activities are informed by each other, are driven by our strategic plan, and are aligned with our programmatic work. With a particular focus on Black men who have sex with men, women of color, and the Southern region of the United States, we have prioritized our advocacy work to target the following areas in 2012: Budget and Appropriations, Evidence-Based Prevention, Ryan White Program Reauthorization, Voter Education, and Re-envisioning HIV/AIDS. Our activities for each priority area are outlined below. You can download a PDF document, which includes
several examples of AIDS United’s policy-focused programmatic initiatives by clicking here.

The time is now. Our priorities are outlined, our actions are clear. And we need YOU! To achieve our bold mission of ending the domestic HIV epidemic, we know it will take teamwork. Teamwork to educate lawmakers. Teamwork to organize people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Teamwork to help give the HIV/AIDS community the increasingly louder voice it will need to end the epidemic. By joining with AIDS United, you demonstrate your commitment, provide critical insight, and, most importantly, amplify our voice as we fight the setbacks and push forward on scientific advances. As an advocate or a policy partner with AIDS United, you will help us zero in our 2012 policy priorities, and end the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Budget and Appropriations

  • We will advocate for a balanced approach to deficit reduction in the implementation of the Budget Control Act.
  • We will ensure that the budget and appropriations process and efforts to reduce the federal deficit are responsive to the goals of the National
    HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and health care reform, and to the needs of vulnerable populations.
  • We will advocate for adequate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (which includes the Social Innovation
    Fund and AmeriCorps)

Evidence-Based Prevention

  • We will promote policies to reduce new HIV infections through a combination of behavioral, biomedical, and structural strategies.
  • We will advocate for lifting the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs.
  • We will ensure that biomedical prevention interventions that use anti-retroviral strategies (Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), vaginal and rectal microbicides, and treatment as prevention) in combination with
    primary prevention activities are researched as viable, endorsable strategies for preventing transmission of HIV among populations most at risk for acquiring the virus.

Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Reauthorization

  • We will strengthen the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program as a transition to full implementation of health care reform.
  • We will ensure that the Ryan White program continues as a safety net for people living with HIV who remain uninsured or underinsured.
  • We will lead the charge for community consensus on a reauthorization package for the Ryan White Program in 2013.

Voter Education

  • We will promote voter education and participation for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS in the 2012 elections.
  • We will educate voters by developing and distributing voter toolkits and guidelines about candidate positions on issues that
    impact the response to HIV/AIDS.
  • We will have a leadership presence at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions to ensure visibility of HIV/AIDS in
    candidate platforms.

Re-envisioning HIV/AIDS

  • We will advocate for policies that reposition HIV/AIDS prevention and care in the context of prevention and management of other chronic diseases
    and co-morbidities of HIV.
  • We will ensure that states’ Essential Health Benefits packages meet the medical needs of people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • We will promote coordination with other chronic diseases and co-morbidities of HIV through the Health Care Reform Partnership Project.

Additional Policy Initiatives

We will also commit to playing a strong supportive and partnering role for other HIV/AIDS-related policies, and advocate for:

  • Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the national and state levels.
  • Other policies that increase access to, and retention in, care for people who are living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
  • Funding for domestic programs for structural HIV prevention interventions and HIV/AIDS research.
  • Policies that decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination towards PLWHAs. Particular focus on repealing and opposing laws that reinforce stigma by criminalizing HIV.
  • A more coordinated global and national response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Particular emphasis on:
    • Promoting visibility of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic at the 2012 International Conference on AIDS.
    • Ensuring policies that support and strengthen the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, with particular focus on coordination among federal agencies, expansion of the twelve cities initiative, and improved coordination in low-prevalence areas.
    • Increasing U.S. leadership on policies and funding that address global HIV/AIDS.

    Click here for the AIDS United 2012 Policy Priorities document.

    Click here to learn more about becoming an AIDS United Policy Partner.

Preview of 2012: The Battles that will Shape the Future of HIV

by Ronald Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy

With all the achievements, as well as a few disappointments, of 2011 officially behind us, our attention now turns to 2012, which almost certainly will prove to be an historic year in the fight against HIV. Below, we preview some of the policy issues in 2012 that could turn the battle against HIV, for better or worse.

Affordable Care Act

In 2012, 10 new provisions of the Affordable Care Act are set to be implemented. The provisions take important steps toward preventing fraud and changing the way that the government pays for health care. However, the highlight of 2012 surely will be the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, with a focus on the individual mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The Court is expected to hear the case in March. The ruling is due by July 2012, and will be critical to determining the extent to which the ACA can be implemented in its original form. A second major highlight in 2012 will be work to develop the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) package. The EHB is one of the key provisions of ACA. It guarantees that plans provide adequate benefits to their enrollees — benefits that will mirror the typical employer-sponsored plan.

Appropriations

The President will submit his Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget proposal to Congress no later than the first Monday of February. The President’s FY 2013 proposal is expected to conform with the spending cap mandated by the Budget Control act. The FY 2012 budget cut $700 million from the Departments of Health and Human Services’ budget, though some notable domestic HIV/AIDS programs essentially were able to maintain their FY 2011 funding levels, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Tuberculosis Prevention programs; the Minority AIDS Initiative; and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

Deficit Reduction

In 2011, debts and deficits drove fiscal policy, as well as political rhetoric, and 2012 looks to be no different. Deficit reduction talks in 2012 will revolve around the Budget Control Act of 2011, the legislation that mandated Congress to develop a plan that would reduce the deficit by $1.2-$1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Congress’ deadline for approving a plan is January 2, 2013. If Congress does not reach an agreement, $1.2 trillion will be cut automatically with 50% coming from defense programs and the other 50% coming from nondefense programs. Certain Members of Congress already have called for defense programs to be exempted from the automatic cuts. Though AIDS United does not take a position on cuts to defense programs, any attempt to shift cuts from defense programs to programs that serve people living with HIV would be unacceptable and would be met with our vigorous opposition.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 was signed by President Obama just before the Congressional recess. The extension gave Congress until February 29 to negotiate continuing a tax cut for social security from 6.2% to 4.2%, a tax cut that is supported by the President. Also included in the extension was a postponement of cuts to Medicare reimbursements for doctors. Medicare payments to physicians were scheduled to be cut by 27% this year. A congressional conference committee has been created to extend the payroll tax cut and to come up with a long term solution for Medicare reimbursements. The committee is expected to first meet the week of January 16.

Elections

Elections in 2012 will determine the makeup of the 113th Congress, as well as the occupier of the White House. The new Congress and the winner of the presidential election will be faced with reauthorizing the Ryan White Care Act in 2013, implementing the major reforms of the Affordable Care Act, continuing the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and determining funding appropriations for domestic HIV/AIDS programs under the mandates of the Budget Control Act and annual fiscal year budgets. Additionally, a number of biomedical HIV interventions are being developed, and will require the financial commitment and the vocal support of all our political leaders.

Syringe Exchange

Deplorably, Congress included a ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs) in the final Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations omnibus. Despite the fact that SEPs have been incontrovertibly proven to reduce rates of HIV transmission in a way that is significantly cost-effective, the ban, which was originally instituted in the late 80s and overturned in 2009, was reinstated. In 2012, HIV advocates and organizations will and must work to hold Congress and the White House accountable for this reprehensible step backward in the fight against HIV.

Biomedical advances

The past couple years have seen a flurry of biomedical advances that have given many hope that science is finally starting to gain in the fight against HIV. In 2011, we saw encouraging results in trials that tested vaccines, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and the efficacy of ARV treatment in preventing transmission among serodiscordant couples. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration will consider an application from Gilead Sciences, that requests Truvada be labeled as an HIV PrEP in addition to its current label as an HIV treatment drug.  PrEP is the use of HIV medications to prevent an HIV infection. Gilead’s request is based on findings from a worldwide study showing that PrEP containing the HIV drug Truvada, reduced the rate HIV incidence by 44 percent. Additionally, the Follow-on African Consortium for Tenofovir Studies (FACTS)Trial is conducting a study to investigate the effectiveness of a vaginal microbicide gel containing the HIV drug, Tenofovir. The FACTS 001 study will test if a vaginal gel containing Tenofovir is effective at preventing HIV and Herpes Virus 2 transmission among women when used immediately before and after sex. Results are expected in 2013.

In recent news, researchers testing HIV vaccines in monkeys have found their most successful vaccine, which used two different strains of adenovirus that normally causes colds, to be 80 percent effective at preventing infection. “As far as animal trials go, this is a solid step in trying to track down the [biological markers] of immunity,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, which provided partial funding of the study.

National HIV/AIDS Strategy

In July of 2012, we will mark the end of the second year of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). The milestone will find us 2/5 of the way toward 2015 from when the Strategy was originally released in 2010. The Administration has sought to reach the goals of NHAS by collaborating and enhancing their partnership with state and local HIV authorities. NHAS has called for ambitious levels of reduction in new HIV incidence, increases in access to care and improved health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reduction in HIV-related health disparities. The Administration will be expected to show quantifiable progress that has been made toward these goals over the past two years. Reaching the goals of NHAS would be impossible without better access to healthcare for people living with HIV, therefore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act will be pivotal to determining the success of NHAS over the next three years.

International AIDS Conference

For the first time in 20 years, the International AIDS Conference (IAC) will be held in the United States. Appropriately, the conference host will be Washington DC. The timing in an election year, as well as the location of IAC will create an extraordinary opportunity for HIV activists to call for presidential and Congressional candidates to take a position on the myriad legislation and policies that impact people living with HIV.

JRI/NBGMAC Convene PrEP Training for Black Gay Men

By: Charles Stephens, AIDS United Regional Organizer

The Justice Resource Institute (JRI), in partnership with the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC), convened a two-day speakers training in mid-December for black gay men focusing on Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).  PrEP is the use of HIV medications to prevent an HIV infection.  The goal of the training was to create a network of black gay male leaders that will speak about PrEP in their communities and enhance the awareness and engagement of black gay men around PrEP.  I had the opportunity to participate in the training, which included participants representing a range of professional experiences, disciplines, ages, approaches to HIV prevention, and geographic locations.

The training included rigorous discussions about research ethics, barriers to implementing PrEP, the importance of research literacy, and cultural humility in connecting high-risk populations to PrEP.  Participants learned how to address community concerns, develop effective messaging, and talk about scientific terminology. Each of us had the opportunity to give mock presentations about PrEP.

We also learned more about iPrEx, which was the study that indicated the effectiveness of PrEP for men who have sex with men (MSM).  Robert Grant, who was the protocol chair for the iPrEx study, was also one of the presenters. We took the opportunity to ask him questions, and get his perspective on the development and execution of the study, in addition to learning more of his insights about PrEP.

As next steps, we were encouraged coordinate trainings in our respective communities for black gay men around PrEP. For some of us, this will also include educating our staff and colleagues to more effectively and strategically target our efforts to have the greatest possible impact. This training — and other similar activities — gives us a way forward in having greater parity not only in access, but also information.

World AIDS Day 2011 in Tulsa, OK

OttWorld AIDS Day was certainly a long one this year, as there were two events going on in Tulsa. Instead of picking one, Team Tulsa decided to do them both! First we attended Tulsa CARES’ annual World AIDS Day Symposium. Tulsa CARES is an HIV/AIDS organization that works with HIV-positive people living in poverty. Then we went to Tulsa’s World AIDS Day program and premiere of “We Were Here,” a documentary about the early days of AIDS epidemic in San Francisco and how the city responded.

At the symposium, we learned about issues from a wide variety of sources facing people living with HIV/AIDS  in Tulsa . The first presenter, Jim Ott, talked to us about the “rush to judgment” that we fight against in our work with HIV. Then we had a panel of health experts talk about current and promising medical advances, including new drugs and trials. It was very informative, especially hearing from our HIV-positive audience members and learning their health concerns.

harrisonAfter lunch, Dr. Timothy Harrison from the  US Department of Health and Human Services explained how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was created and how it would affect Oklahoma. Christopher Grano from the Northern Colorado AIDS Project talked to us about taking stigma out of our prevention materials. Instead of using scare tactics that make people living with HIV seem evil, negligent, or dangerous, he wants us to put people first and have sex-positive prevention materials that focus on good behaviors (getting tested, wearing condoms, not discriminating against people with HIV, etc). Our last presenter asked us to be mindful of the ethics in how we share information about clients with other agencies. Even though sharing might be legal through releases or lack of laws, it might not be ethical. The whole program helped us professionally and personally and was a good reminder that we have the information and medications to end AIDS.

At the candlelight vigil, we had a chance to remember our co-workers, clients, and friends with HIV who have passed. Then we went inside the independent movie theater to listen to stories from Tulsa’s early response to the HIV epidemic. We had a lot of former AmeriCorps site supervisors and an AmeriCorps member from the first team talk about their experiences at the beginning of the epidemic and their hopes for the future. There were lots of people dying in Oklahoma at the beginning, and Ric Harrison, a former AmeriCorps member, was a part of a VNA hospice group that help ease the passing of Tulsans with AIDS. Janice Nicklas, our city supervisor, talked about founding TCAP, Tulsa Community AIDS Project, and Tulsa CARES. It was good for the AmeriCorps team to hear these stories of the beginning of the epidemic since none of us had been born during that time. Hearing all the stories and hopes for the future made us feel more committed to the cause. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the epidemic, but there’s still a lot more to do!