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Brown, Munar attend HIV event at White House, Obama speaks
by Kristin Kowalski

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When the White House unveiled its new HIV/AIDS policy July 13, two Chicagoans were there to hear the plan and attend the reception at the White House. Christopher Brown, the assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, HIV Division, and David Munar, the vice president of policy and communications at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, both attended.

The press conference, where the plan was unveiled, took place at the executive offices next to the White House. Attendees included Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy Jeff Crowley. According to Munar, the nearly 200 invitees include AIDS advocates, foundation representatives, corporate representatives and government officials. "People were excited that the White House had unveiled the national HIV/AIDS policy," said Munar. "And we were spending the day bringing the focus to the fight against AIDS."

"I was extremely honored and excited to be invited to both events," said Brown. "I think it is a significant step towards the domestic fight against HIV and AIDS."

President Obama spoke at the reception. "People were very encouraged by his remarks and his acknowledgement about the role of AIDS related stigma," said Munar. "Stigma and discrimination can be a force to perpetuate the epidemic and discourage people from accessing testing and cure services they need." Obama also talked about how gay men are disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

Munar said, "It certainly makes clear that even though HIV doesn't discriminate and everyone is biologically susceptible to infection, because of the concentration of HIV in certain populations not everybody shares an equal risk for infection and certainly gay men of all races and ethnicities have a higher chance." He added that concentrating efforts in populations like the gay community and people of color can make a difference regarding the epidemic.

"I think there is frustration that there's not a commitment of new revenue or new federal funding for the plan," said Munar. "I think there's efficiency that could be brought and should be realized by more coordination, by more targeting and reprogramming resources, but that, we don't believe, is going to be nearly enough to achieve the president's goals."

The plan has three basic goals: to reduce new infections; increase health care access and health outcomes; and to reduce health disparities in fighting HIV/AIDS. Brown said, "I think they are ambitious, but realistic goals and I think how it's coordinated and implemented at the national level will be key in its success."

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