Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on World AIDS Day 2021

Published: Wed Dec 01 2021

Via Teleconference

(November 30, 2021)

6:04 P.M. EST

MR. MUNOZ: All right. Good evening. Hi, everybody. I'm Kevin Munoz with the White House Press Office. Thank you for joining us tonight. Tonight's call is embargoed until tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. Eastern, when we will announce, on World AIDS Day 2021, renewed commitments to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

On this call, we have [senior administration officials]. A reminder that this call will be attributable to "senior administration officials." My colleague will go through some remarks. And then, if you raise your hand, I can go ahead and facilitate some Q&A after their remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Kevin. Good evening, everyone.

So, tomorrow will mark World AIDS Day. And some of you might have seen the big red ribbon going up on the North Portico of the White House.

This World AIDS Day comes 40 years since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially reported the first cases of what later became known as "AIDS." And it's a day where we mourn the loss of more than 36 million people, including 700,000 in the United States, who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. And we also honor the nearly 38 million people living with HIV, including the 1.2 million in the United States. And we celebrate the remarkable gains we have made together in battling this disease.

So, in particular, the Biden-Harris administration is taking several steps to accelerate the fight against HIV/AIDS at home and abroad.

We are releasing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. And you may remember that during the campaign, President Biden pledged to update and implement the nation's comprehensive HIV/AIDS Strategy to "aggressively reduce new HIV cases, while increasing our access to treatment and eliminating inequitable access to medical and support services."

President Biden is honoring that commitment by releasing the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy on World AIDS Day and providing a framework and a direction for the administration's policies, the research, the programs, and planning through the year 2025 to lead us toward ending the HIV epidemic in the United States by the year 2030.

So, in particular, this new National HIV/AIDS Strategy incorporates some of the latest data on HIV incidence, prevalence, and trends; it expands our focus on addressing the social determinants of health that influence an individual's HIV risk and their health outcomes; it encourages reform of state HIV criminalization laws; and adds a new focus on opportunities to engage the private sector in new and important ways in the nation's work to help end the HIV epidemic. In essence, we're asking them to help join us in this national effort.

The Strategy gives us that framework for the directions and policies and also reflects President Biden's commitment to accelerate and strengthen the national response to ending the HIV epidemic.

So, it includes both principles and the priorities to guide the collective work of the nation to address HIV over the next four years.

And it really does seek to reenergize a whole-of-society response to the epidemic and accelerate the efforts while supporting people with HIV and reducing HIV morbidity and mortality.

Also, as part of the World AIDS Day commemoration, the President will also underscore his commitment and partnership with several key countries and institutions to hosting the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference here in the United States.

The United States welcomes the opportunity to host the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference. And the U.S.'s commitment to ending the three epidemics and achieving sustained epidemiological impact via the multi-sectoral approach.

As a founding member of the Global Fund, the United States will ensure that the establishment of the Global Fund and the replenishment serve to accelerate the progress, again, to end the HIV epidemic by the year 2030.

So, tomorrow, as part of World AIDS Day, remarks will be made by the President in the East Room at 2:30, where the HHS Secretary will open the program acknowledging not only those we've lost to HIV but the resilience of the HIV community and the progress we've made over 40 years.

The President will also be introduced by an advocate from California living with HIV, and will then speak about how we ensure that those with HIV are treated with equity and dignity, and - as part of our strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

So, I think that's kind of a summary of everything that's going on, including the release of the - of the Strategy. So I think now I turn it back over to Kevin.

MR. MUNOZ: Yes. Thank you so much. We have time for a few questions.

First question, let's go to Heather Boerner.

Q Thanks so much. Hi, Heather Boerner from WebMD. I wanted to get a sense from you of what - where is the rubber hitting the road in terms of working with multiple agencies within the government, working with agriculture? You know, what are those concrete plans? And what is the goal?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So - thanks, Heather. So, part of our work over these last couple of months has been to work with departments outside of the Department of Health and Human Services.

As I mentioned, you know, addressing the HIV epidemic, it also takes a more coordinated approach and an integrated approach, where we also look at, sort of, the intersection where food insecurity and housing instability all sort of play a role both putting people at risk for HIV and also getting in the way of health outcomes and treatment goals for people living with HIV.

So, the federal departments and programs that have been involved and at the table - and you mentioned some of them - starting early next year, will submit activities that are part of their implementation plans to help a lot - make sure that those activities align, and that they are aligned with both the Strategy and they also contribute to helping us reach our goals.

So those plans will be due in early 2022. I think right now many of the departments and agencies are thinking about different things that they can do in light of coming to the table and working with us, also hearing from the community about what's needed with some of those programs.

And so, we look forward to those plans, and also continuing to get community input into some of the activities that would be most helpful from those departments. But I think that's where the rubber really meets the road.

Q So - just a quick follow-up: What is - can you make it a little bit less abstract? Can you give examples of things that you're thinking of?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So, for example, we've had not - well, we've always had HUD at the table through the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, but now having representatives from other parts of HUD at the table, they are thinking about what could be the role of public housing or Section 8 programming in part of the HIV response.

And so, as a department, they're thinking about, I think, both what they can do both with money; what they can do without money; how they can create new partnerships; and also, how, on the local level, they can create new partnerships between programs that are doing HIV prevention, HIV testing, and public housing entities, as an example.

MR. MUNOZ: All right. Next question. Let's go to Sheryl Stolberg at New York Times.

Q Hi. Thank you for taking my question.

A number of experts see a direct link between the coronavirus pandemic and HIV. And some say that really the best thing that you can do for HIV-infected people, especially overseas, would be to get them vaccines against coronavirus.

There's also some thought that perhaps the variants that are emerging in Southern Africa may be attributed to HIV-infected people, who are more vulnerable. So, I'm wondering if you see this link and what, if anything, you're doing to give special priority to HIV-infected people for vaccination here and overseas?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I'll start with the last question, first. We have pushed a lot of information out, both through our federal sources and also state and local sources, to people living with HIV. And the message, I think, has been consistent about the importance of getting the vaccine, especially those who may have HIV that is diagnosed but are not in treatment and not virally suppressed.

So, encouraging everyone to get the vaccine has been part of the federal effort with this piece of it. I would have to defer to the Coronavirus Task Force about the issues of sort of what's coming out of Africa with people who are HIV-positive and the new variant.

But again, I think it does point to the importance of vaccinations. And we have worked - both through HHS and through other channels - the White House on down - to try to make sure that we get the word out to the community and using trusted community messengers to get the word out about the importance of vaccination for people living with HIV.

MR. MUNOZ: Next question, let's go to Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade.

Q Hi, thanks for hosting this call. My question is about the - I have two questions, actually. The first about the National HIV Strategy. I know this is something that the government has renewed every few years or so. Can you talk a little bit about how this strategy is going to be different from those in the past - if it's going to recognize any new challenges or goals or accomplishes made since then?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Thanks, Chris. There are a lot of updates that we have done to this plan and really taken more of a whole-of-government approach to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. This Strategy recognizes racism as a serious public health threat. We talk about the important role of the Affordable Care Act in providing access to services for people living with HIV, as well as those at risk.

There's a new focus on people who - with HIV who are aging. There's an enhanced focus on quality of life. We also are focusing on the importance of harm-reduction services and also strengthening the call for a more integrated response to dealing with not only HIV, but viral hepatitis, STIs, substance use, and mental health disorders.

So, there are several updates in this. And some of those new features or new areas of focus have come about from both community input as well as sitting down with our federal partners and thinking about also the priorities of this administration, where there is a focus on equity, there is a focus on addressing stigma and discrimination and ensuring that also marginalized populations have access to healthcare, and that we are also working to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience are part of our response.

So, I think this strategy is a more people-centered strategy as well.

MR. MUNOZ: Great. Next question, let's go Scott Bixby at The Daily Beast.

Q Thank you guys so much for hosting this call, and thank you, [senior administration official].

My question is pretty straightforward. Obviously, the past 18 months has revealed that the coronavirus pandemic is the, you know, front and center of the American public health apparatus. Many of the leading authorities on HIV/AIDS - Director Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci - have effectively been sidelined by the focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

Going forward, what does this plan and strategy do to accommodate for the fact that there are limited resources to attract any - to address any public health crisis and make sure that there are enough resources going to this much older crisis?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Thanks, Scott, for that question.

You know, President Biden has shown his support for us, ensuring that we have the resources to address the HIV epidemic while we are still battling the coronavirus. And his FY22 budget request also is reflective of that as well.

So, hopefully, when we have a budget passed, we will be able to continue to effectively use these funds to address the HIV epidemic.

And what's interesting to me is that some of the work focusing on ending the HIV epidemic began in early 2022 [2020]. And many of the programs and the frontline healthcare workers continue to provide support to people living with HIV and also resources to address HIV prevention, even in the face of COVID-19.

And we saw - I think we saw different ways of providing HIV testing that include more acceptance and use of HIV self-testing. We saw innovative approaches using telehealth during this pandemic. And so, I think there's both a need, and we are seeing increase in funding, as well as a healthcare workforce that is dedicated to ensuring that services are available. And they've been able to do this during this pandemic as well.

I think, too, having our trusted experts and - like Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci - working on coronavirus and using what they've learned from years of HIV care, treatment, and research really has helped us a lot to be able to address COVID-19.

And we're looking forward to seeing what additional insights and knowledge and expertise researchers have gained through fighting this virus that can now be applied to our search for a vaccine and a cure for HIV.

MR. MUNOZ: All right. Last question. Let's go to Maureen Groppe at USA Today.

Q I think I'm unmuted now. Hey, [senior administration official].


Q Hey, I was hoping you could elaborate on two of the bullet points here. Can you give an example of the way you can engage the private sector in novel and important ways? What's a new way you're going to be doing that? And then can you also expand on how are you going to encourage states to reform HIV criminalization laws?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, thank you for those. So, the call to engage the private sector, I think, goes in a lot of different ways. And we're hoping to have more meetings with the private sector to really dive deep into this.

But what we're finding even in - and I think COVID-19 is a great example of how pharmacies in the private sector have stepped up and provided access to vaccines.

With HIV, you know, in many communities, especially disenfranchised communities where there is not a healthcare provider, there's a pharmacy, whether it be, you know, CVS or Walgreens. And those pharmacists have the ability to provide access to HIV testing, information about HIV. And in some states, pharmacists can also get someone started on HIV prevention medication. So, that's just one example.

Another example is some of our social media outlets which have access into communities and are able to provide information in ways that are faster and more culturally appropriate sometimes than some of our public health entities.

I think there are different ways that we can engage them to really help us combat the misinformation and the stigma that exist around HIV and also do it in really culturally appropriate ways too. So, I think those are just two examples of what that might look like.

And to answer your question about HIV criminalization and ways that we can work with states to help reform laws that criminalize people living with HIV - some of these laws don't even reflect the most up-to-date science and what we know about HIV transmission.

So, we'll be working both with HHS, the Department of Justice, and also with advocates to figure out what we can do on the federal level to help them support efforts to reform and eliminate those laws.

MR. MUNOZ: All right. Thank you so much, [senior administration official].

As a reminder, guys, this is embargoed until tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. Eastern. Any questions, you know where to find me. Thanks.

6:22 P.M. EST

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