75: World AIDS Day Impact

Dr. Stephen Lee, Executive Director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, talks about World AIDS Day and the opportunities for public health agencies; Dr. Umair Shah, Washington’s Secretary of Health, explains how...

Dr. Stephen Lee, Executive Director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, talks about World AIDS Day and the opportunities for public health agencies; Dr. Umair Shah, Washington’s Secretary of Health, explains how personal challenges help him connect with people in his state; Dr. Mary Bassett begins work today as New York’s new commissioner of health; and ASTHO provides details of key job openings.

ASTHO Blog Article: World AIDS Day 2021 – Ending the HIV Epidemic

World AIDS Day webpage

New York State webpage: Governor Hochul Appoints Dr. Mary T. Bassett as Commissioner of the Department of Health

ASTHO webpage: Job Opportunities in Public Health and at ASTHO

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, December 1st, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Across the world, people are rocking their red ribbons today to recognize World AIDS Day and support people living with HIV.

Stephen Lee is executive director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. He talks about this event and the opportunities for public health agencies in today's morning conversation.

World AIDS Day is today. How can leaders in public health leverage the moment to advance understanding and awareness?


I think key lessons learned over the past 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic include really the importance of accurate, timely, and understandable information; and this information ought to be coupled with really segmented and targeted outreach to communities and to key populations.

I think today we should highlight successes of the past 40 years, including antiretroviral viral medications to treat and manage HIV infection, and more recent advances in preventing HIV infection—for example, through pre-exposure prophylaxis and PrEP.

Despite these successes, however, there's still a lot of work to be done. Stigma, HIV criminalization, inequalities and inequities of race, gender, especially among marginalized populations, along with barriers associated with homelessness and insufficient housing, unemployment, financial need, substance use, mental health issues—these are challenges that all continue to help us to prevent us from achieving the health outcomes of ending the HIV epidemic.


We're talking about the HIV epidemic today, but what about tomorrow, and the day after that? How can public health leaders keep the conversation going?


You know, as we accelerate efforts to end the HIV epidemic, public health officials can expand outreach strategies, introducing new and innovative strategies to expand information, prevention, at clinic services and other services to better reach those communities facing pockets of new diagnoses.

We can build on lessons learned over the past 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and advance understanding and availability of virtual educational opportunities and home-based health services.

And we can really shift our focus and resources for testing and linking prevention care and treatment services to populations that are most at risk for HIV infection.


The first World AIDS Day was in 1988, so that was 33 years ago.

How valuable has this recognition been to the cause?


You know, World AIDS Day brings focused attention to an ongoing pandemic; and, as we enter the third year of COVID-19, we can forget the ongoing HIV epidemic. So, today's an opportunity to highlight the data and stories of our successes, but also—and just as importantly—emphasize where the gaps are.

We can use this opportunity to build momentum for addressing the gaps at various levels—for example, at a policy level, financial and programmatic levels—and this is a great opportunity for us to really think about the course corrections we need to end AIDS while also protecting against future pandemics.

So, for example, we can invest in community-led transformative responses. We need to be equitable in our access to lifesaving medicines and health technologies. We need to invest in the data systems that can detect inequalities and then allow us to design approaches that address these inequalities. And, finally, we need to invest in the workforce across all of the disciplines that are essential for ending the epidemic.


ASTHO has a new blog and an audio feature discussing the HIV epidemic with comments from two top federal officials with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

You can find links to both of those resources in today's show notes.


Dr. Umair Shah has managed many of the same challenges facing people in Washington state where he works as its health secretary. He cares for his aging mother and keeps the family on track while his wife travels for her job; at the same time, leading Washington's pandemic response. He says all of it helps him connect with people across the state.


I started many of my interviews with not as a doctor, and not as a health secretary, not as a public health practitioner, not as fill in the blanks, but I started as a dad, as a parent.

And I think we oftentimes forget that connectedness and the human touch; because when we are willing to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there, that's when others are willing to not just put themselves back out there with us, but also to trust us and see us as part of the solution.



Also, New York state has a new commissioner of health. Dr. Mary Bassett starts work today.

Governor Kathy Hoeckel says Dr. Bassett is perfectly equipped to lead the state through the pandemic and calls her a highly regarded public health expert. Dr. Bassett says she views recovery from the pandemic as a unique opportunity to create a state that is more equitable for all New Yorkers.

Before this assignment, she held leadership positions at Harvard University and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.


Finally this morning, ASTHO is hiring to fill several open positions.

The organization needs a senior analyst in its contracts office, a manager for meetings and events, and an analyst to support program operations.

You can find a link to the ASTHO careers webpage in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.