Government Relations Update
APA is reinforcing the fact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over and heightening its efforts to inform policymakers on the immense and urgent contributions psychology is making in the fight against the disease. On Dec. 9-10, psychologists and AIDS experts Scyatta Wallace, PhD, and Eugene Farber, PhD, met with the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy, the Department of Health and Human Services and seven key congressional offices to highlight the empirically based role behavioral sciences are playing in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in both the clinical and research settings.
Wallace, a psychology professor at St. John’s University and chair of APA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Psychology and AIDS (COPA), and Farber, a professor at Emory University and new COPA member, were joined by Bob Bongiovanni, MA, HIV care and treatment program manager from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Bongiovanni provided a front-line perspective on the challenges and opportunities for HIV and mental health service integration.
The trip to the nation’s capital was timed to influence steps the federal government will take to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, released by the White House in July. As the first comprehensive plan to respond to the domestic HIV epidemic, the strategy sets ambitious goals to reduce HIV incidence, improve health outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS and eliminate HIV/AIDS-related health disparities.
“The meetings with HHS and the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy made it clear that APA is well-postioned and welcome to contribute to [this strategy’s] implementation,” said Wallace. “Having these face-to-face contacts with policymakers helps to build relationships that may contribute to improving the lives of those who are at risk, affected and living with HIV/AIDS.”
In a meeting with HHS’s Ronald Valdiserri, MD, MPH, the APA team of experts offered the agency specific recommendations to expand mental health and substance-use screening and promote brief intervention and referral to treatment in key federal programs. They also called for HHS to renew its investments in behavioral and social science research into the dynamics of HIV transmission and disease progression among several hard-hit groups: black gay men, bisexual men and non-gay-identified men who have sex with men. They also urged HHS to explore the contextual factors impacting black women, children and families and the aging population of individuals with HIV/AIDS.
At the White House, APA met with senior policy adviser Greg Millett, MPH. The visit built upon APA’s previous recommendations, which underscored the need for targeted resources to ensure that mental and behavioral health, neurocognitive and substance use/abuse issues are systematically and comprehensively addressed in the course of HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
On its second day of advocacy, the APA advocacy team visited Capitol Hill, where myriad legislative activities are taking place to advance the prevention and treatment of the disease despite difficult fiscal challenges. APA met with the offices of Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). The team sought areas of common ground and opportunities in the 112th Congress, which will be defined by pressures to reduce discretionary spending, at a time when the White House’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy calls for new investments in scaling up the nation’s HIV/AIDS infrastructure and response efforts.
“These meetings provided an excellent forum for dialogue with policymakers regarding the key roles of behavioral science and mental health intervention in the implementation of the national HIV/AIDS strategy,” said Farber.
APA’s work to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic will remain a priority for the organization, said Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, executive director of APA’s Public Interest Directorate. “The magnitude of psychology’s contributions is invaluable to the progress being made against the disease,” said Keita. “These meetings and activities on APA’s part serve as a reminder that there is much more work to do. We stand committed to working with policymakers to ensure the behavioral and mental health aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic are addressed.”
Leo B. Rennie, MPA, is a senior legislative and federal affairs officer, and Benjamin D. Vonachen is the senior legislative assistant in the Public Interest Government Relations Office.