“This year, we commemorate World AIDS Day while physically distanced but together in spirit, in support of those impacted by HIV/AIDS,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, Chief Executive Officer of NACCHO.
— Local health departments continue to lead on HIV/AIDS prevention and care despite COVID-19 challenges —
Washington, DC, November 30, 2020 — World AIDS Day is honored on December 1st to increase HIV awareness and knowledge and speak out against stigma. As we collectively remember and mourn the millions of lives lost to AIDS around the world, in this particularly difficult year, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) highlights the resilience of the communities affected by these dual pandemics, as well as that of the local health department officials and staff working tirelessly to prevent, detect, and respond to HIV while on the frontlines of COVID-19.
“This year, we commemorate World AIDS Day while physically distanced but together in spirit, in support of those impacted by HIV/AIDS,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, Chief Executive Officer of NACCHO. “NACCHO is proud to support all local health department staff, including the HIV workforce who remain dedicated to their communities despite competing priorities and resource shortages. They are the front lines of public health and we are so grateful for their service.”
The theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is “Resilience and Impact.” In 2020, communities most impacted by HIV in the U.S. include Black / African Americans and Latinx people, who are also simultaneously experiencing disproportionate COVID-19 outcomes. In the U.S., 42% and 27% of HIV diagnoses respectively are among Black/African American and Latinx people, and despite reductions in overall HIV rates since 2014, trends are increasing among specific communities, especially young gay & bisexual men of color.
Jefferson County, in Birmingham, Alabama accounts for almost a quarter of all HIV diagnoses in Alabama, and in 2017 the local health department began offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to support HIV prevention. In the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the Jefferson County Health Department sexual health clinic were overwhelmed when COVID-19 reached substantial community spread, and normal operations in the sexual health clinic were reduced by over 80%.
Despite these setbacks, Brittany Sanders, lead nurse practitioner in the sexual health clinic and member of NACCHO’s HIV, STI, and Viral Hepatitis Workgroup, knew that clients still needed the crucial HIV prevention and STD services provided by her health department. Within a few weeks, the program transitioned to telephone-only PrEP appointments for existing clients and expanded no-contact express options for lab testing.
“The staff are resilient,” said Sanders of her colleagues at the sexual health clinic. “We had to make all of these changes and learn to do new tasks while doing the work we were hired to do, the work we love.” Sanders and many of her team have been contact tracing for COVID-19 and delivering quarantine orders while filling a critical gap in HIV and STI prevention. “We found a way to get it done.”
Sanders can see the impacts on the community her clinic serves. “Without TelePrEP, clients felt they had to miss their visits, and they want to continue taking their medicine… people are going with the flow and adapting to changes to make sure we all stay healthy.” Since starting TelePrEP and fast track visits, most PrEP clients at Jefferson County have been retained in care and are even referring their peers to new appointments.
Like the Jefferson County Health Department, local health departments across the nation are adapting to maintain prevention and treatment services for HIV, STI, and viral hepatitis for those who need them most. You can read more about the impacts of COVID-19 on local health department HIV, STI and Viral Hepatitis programs in this Report from the Field and how NACCHO’s HIV, STI, and Viral Hepatitis team supports local health departments working to end the HIV epidemic in their jurisdictions by visiting our website.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities. For more information about NACCHO, please visit www.naccho.org.