Photo: Gernhaex
Photo: Gernhaex

What disease, in 2007, killed just under 39 times the number killed so far by the H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus, but has no national-level plan to fight its fatal rampage?

It’s HIV/AIDS, killer of 14,110 Americans in 2007 (the latest year statistics are available).

The Obama Administration intends to change that, though, starting with a series of town hall-style meetings in cities held across the country from September to December as part of a process to design a national-level strategy to coordinate the battle against the virus. Minneapolis will be hosting the third such meeting at 6:30 pm on Friday, October 2, at the Zuhrah Shrine Center in Minneapolis.

The organizers, including Peter Carr who is the director of STD & HIV programs at the Minnesota Department of Health, say they want as many people to attend as possible. “We want everyone who deals with the issue of HIV personally or professionally to come,” Carr said, “or as many as we can fit in the hall!”

Carr and Rob Yaeger, MDH’s HIV Prevention Training Coordinator, say the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy wants to get input from a wide swath of the community. “We want anyone who works in HIV prevention, services, testing, education, as well as people living with or affected by HIV,” Carr said.

Because space at the Shriners’ event center is limited, Yaeger said, anyone who wants to go to the meeting is asked to register here.

You’ll have one-and-a-half minutes to present your ideas to representatives from ONAP, but Yaeger said you’ll be asked to think along three basic principals the Office wants to use as organizing themes in crafting the new national AIDS policy:

Reducing infections
Increasing access to care
Reducing HIV-related health inequities

“That [third point] could include health care reform,” said Yaeger, “or more affordable health insurance, or better education for youth in schools.”

Yaeger and Carr wanted to be clear the ONAP was thinking broadly in designing the plan. One issue they hope will be addressed is the lack of funding for HIV prevention among trans people. “The [Center for Disease Control] say they don’t have numbers to say trans people are impacted [by HIV], but that’s because they’ve only had two boxes to check off under ‘gender'” in forms used to report new infections, Yaeger said.

To help people prepare for the meeting and organize their comments into a 1.5 minute speech, organizers are holding a meeting on Wednesday night at 6:30, in the Mississippi Room of MDH’s Snelling Office Park in St Paul.

Carr and Yaeger said the exact timeline for the plan’s development is not yet clear, and the ONAP hasn’t outlined the specific ways input from all 13 town hall meetings will be used. But, Carr said, he thinks it’s clear ONAP won’t be throwing people’s input into a waste bin because the Office is going through great efforts to gather input, including a comment form, created by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance to get input from people who aren’t able to speak at Friday’s meeting.

“We’re excited that the White House is involved,” said Carr, “We’ve spent the last 8 years [under the Bush administration] being under-funded ad over-censored…A national strategy really highlights and provides credibility and weight to the importance of the issue when you have to ask for funding from Congress.

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