Sitting in the front row at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) annual meeting late last year was one of the biggest ties to the national fight against AIDS: Jeff Crowley, the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, a post appointed by President Obama.
Earlier that day, Crowley also spoke to an AFC focus group on The National HIV/AIDS Strategy ( NHAS ) .
"I enjoyed visiting," Crowley recently told Windy City Times. "During the focus group, I heard the concerns and recommendations from the HIV/AIDS community in Chicago and other parts of the state. It has been exciting to have the high level of public engagement from people living with HIV contributing their ideas to help in the development of the national strategy."
AFC President Mark Ishaug added: "We are very lucky to have Jeff Crowley as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. His broad and deep experience in HIV, healthcare policy and disability rights will help the administration and all of us implement healthcare reform, which we hope will happen soon. AFC works very closely with Mr. Crowley and everyone in his office and the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS to ensure that we get the resources, programs and policies we need to stem HIV transmission and serve those living with the disease."
Crowley, 44, a Grand Rapids, Mich., native, has had a partner ( Ricky ) for 17 years.
"AIDS Foundation of Chicago is one of our many partners," Crowley said. "They have been a leading voice in working for the development of a national HIV/AIDS strategy."
Windy City Times: As the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, what exactly does that job entail?
Jeff Crowley: As the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy ( ONAP ) , I am the president's lead advisor on HIV/AIDS policy. ONAP is part of the Domestic Policy Council, and our Office is tasked with developing and implementing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy [ NHAS ] to achieve the president's goals of reducing the number of HIV infections, increasing access to care, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. My job entails working with the various departments of the federal government that have responsibilities related to HIV/AIDS, as well as working with a broad range of external partners and stakeholders. To develop the NHAS, I have convened a federal HIV/AIDS interagency working group [ composed ] of policy and program experts across 13 departments and agencies of the federal governmentthat is responsible for helping to develop the NHAS and ensure coordination, accountability, and improved outcomes across the federal government. In addition to developing the NHAS, my office is responsible for a broader range of HIV-related policy and programmatic issues. Additionally, I serve as the senior advisor on disability policy, and in this capacity I coordinate health and disability policy issues for the Domestic Policy Council.
WCT: Where do you think we're at in the fight against AIDS?
Jeff Crowley: We do many things right in the U.S., in responding to HIV/AIDS. We invest more than $16 billion per year on domestic HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and research. We have developed effective treatments for HIV. And, we have lowered the number of [ new ] HIV infections each year from more than 130,000 to just more than 56,000. At the same time, major challenges remain. Fifty-six thousand infections per year are too many. There are enormous disparities in who is becoming infected with HIV and who has access to the best care and services. CDC recently announced that rates of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men are between 44 and 86 times that of all other men and between 40 and 77 times that of women. Racial and ethnic minorities are also disproportionately affected by HIV, and both racial and ethnic minorities and women are less likely than other groups to have access to HIV care. For these reasons, President Obama committed to developing an NHAS to assess what we are doing and come up with a plan for sharpening our national response to HIV/AIDS.
WCT: The travel policy for people living with HIV changed in 2009. Your thoughts about that?
Jeff Crowley: The president understands that the HIV-entry ban that previously barred people living with HIV from visiting or immigrating to the United States was a relic of the past that was rooted in fear and perpetuated stigma and discrimination. He made a commitment to eliminating this ban and that is what we did. The process was started under the Bush administration, and we took the required steps to finally end this discriminatory practice in January of this year.
The elimination of the HIV-entry ban made it possible for the United States to host the International AIDS Conference once again, which has not been here in more than 20 years. We are extremely pleased that the International AIDS Society has decided to hold its conference in Washington, D.C, in July, 2012. Hosting the International AIDS Conference is an important opportunity for the United States and our nation's capital. It will allow America to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ending the HIV pandemic both in the United States and around the world.
WCT: How often is the subject of HIV/AIDS discussed with the president?
Jeff Crowley: Addressing HIV/AIDS is a top public health priority for the President. He is committed to re-focusing public attention on the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic. At the same time, the administration is committed to our ongoing efforts to ameliorate the global pandemic. In the past year, the president has publicly discussed the administration's HIV/AIDS agenda on various occasions, including mentioning HIV in his first State of the Union speech.
WCT: How has your first year on the job been? Was it what you expected, more than what you hoped for, less than what you hoped for, challenging, etc.?
Jeff Crowley: My office accomplished several key milestones: We worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch the Act Against AIDS campaign, a five-year, multifaceted campaign to remind the American people that HIV/AIDS remains a serious public health threat in this country. We have taken several steps to support more routine screening for HIV by permitting the Veteran's Administration to adopt routine HIV screening in their healthcare programs, informing states that Medicaid and CHIP programs can cover routine HIV screening and taking steps to expand HIV testing under Medicare. The president signed a four-year reauthorization of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. The administration eliminated the HIV entry ban and announced that the International AIDS conference will return to the United States in July, 2012. [ We ] reconvened the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS ( PACHA ) . This council of 25 HIV/AIDS experts is composed of a diverse group of researchers, service providers, and community leaders from around the country, including people living with HIV. Additionally, ONAP has gone to extraordinary lengths to engage the American people on HIV/AIDS. We held 14 HIV/AIDS community discussions across the country from August through December of [ 2009 ] . We conducted an online process for people to submit to us their ideas for a national HIV/AIDS strategy. We also held a series of expert meetings at the White House on youth and HIV, women and HIV, and housing and HIV. We have all been busy, but it is an incredible opportunity for all of us to be serving a president who is so committed to tackling so many of the nation's biggest challenges.
WCT: What are your goals for year two?
Jeff Crowley: The president made a commitment to develop a national HIV/AIDS strategy, and this is a primary focus of my office. We are now working with federal partners through a federal HIV interagency working group to consider all of the recommendations that we have received in order to come up with a strategy. What I hope you will see is a short, concise plan for moving the country forward. Predicated on building on what we are currently doing, it will identify the small number of high payoff action steps that we need to take to achieve each of the president's goals. We envision the strategy being a document that provides a roadmap for policymakers and the general public on what steps the United States must take to lower HIV incidence, get all people living with HIV into care, and reduce HIV-related health disparities.
WCT: What are your long-term goals?
Jeff Crowley: The release of the national HIV/AIDS strategy is only a beginning. If it is a road map for the country, then we will need to start traveling down the road toward making progress in our HIV prevention and care efforts. This will involve working with the relevant federal agencies on implementing the strategy, and it will also mean working with a broad range of stakeholders to do their part to make the strategy a success. We also plan to work closely with PACHA, which will serve as an external monitor of our progress.
WCT: Will we find a cure for HIV/AIDS?
Jeff Crowley: We must never lose the belief that we can cure HIV, and we should endeavor to make this a reality. Specifically, we must continue to take pragmatic steps toward working for a cure that includes searching for therapeutic vaccines, developing pharmaceuticals that can eliminate HIV from the body and other steps that can help individuals to overcome and recover from HIV infection. Until that time, we must work to prevent new infections from occurring and ensure access to appropriate medical care and supportive services for people living with HIV. We have had major successes in developing effective treatments that enable individuals to live with HIV. We also must protect people from stigma and discrimination.
WCT: What drives/motivates you?
Jeff Crowley: I have been given an incredible opportunity to support President Obama in advancing his agenda for America. During my time here, I want to do whatever it takes to ensure that his administration is successful. I am also fortunate to be working with an amazing team in ONAP and the Domestic Policy Council, and the HIV community is supportive of the president's efforts. With the support of so many people, I am determined to develop a national HIV/AIDS strategy that is bold, achievable and based in the best possible evidence we have of what works.