Five of the nation’s leading organizations focused on ending the HIV and STD epidemics in the United States have collectively expressed their grave concern, "with the lack of focus on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Strategic Plan, Fiscal Year 2018-2022. Despite the crucial importance of the intersectional issues of HIV and STDs, including hepatitis, to our nation’s public health, the report is relatively silent on these issues. The document contains no mention of other STDs, mentions HIV only twice and hepatitis just once."
"This lack of specificity regarding these diseases is of paramount concern," the comments go on, "as is the failure to reference even once, the unique health needs of America’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender populations, who bear the greatest burden of the nation’s HIV and STD epidemics. The report only barely mentions the health needs and disparities facing racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the Plan seems to prioritize faith-based approaches that have the potential to lead to discrimination against religious and sexual minorities."
In the report submitted to HHS, AIDS United, NASTAD, the National Coalition of STD Directors, NMAC, and The AIDS Institute urged the Trump administration to adjust its approach. "At a time when STD rates have increased to their highest levels ever and four out of every 10 people living with HIV are not engaged in care, we should be refocusing our national resources on addressing these challenges, not turning our attention away from them. The HHS Strategic Plan is an opportunity to not only reinforce the national goals and priorities of the United States, but it is an opportunity for the United States to effectively plan to end the HIV epidemic and to address the worsening trends in STDs. Unfortunately, the latest version fails to accomplish either goal."
Matthew Rose, Policy and Advocacy Manager, NMAC, says there is not likely to be an HHS response at that moment and it’s unlikely that there will be a specific response to the comments. "These were submitted on the notice and comment process. Notice-and-comment rulemaking is a common procedure under which a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register and is open to comment by the general public. While this strategy will not make a formal rule, it does use the mechanism to gather comments. There will be a large number of comments to review and to allow how HHS wants to move forward with their strategic plan. Also, the plan doesn’t have the force of law and while it is important trying to compile then sort through for HHS’ revised strategy, there wouldn’t be a new revised plan for a few months."
Going forward, Rose says, "Ideally, we would like to see greater inclusion of HIV in the strategic plan of the agency. In the previous version, HIV was mentioned twenty times. In the current version, HIV is only mentioned once. Given the administrations praise of HIV programs in its budget outline it seems strange that there would only be a single mention in the plan."