By Venita Ray
In December 2016, Legacy Community Health, Houston Health Department and other partners launched END HIV Houston (END) — a strategic and collaborative, five-year campaign to end the HIV epidemic in the nation’s fourth-largest city. Since then, we’ve made progress from the halls of the statehouse to inside patient exam rooms. Here are some noteworthy accomplishments – based on the more than 30 recommendations to ending the epidemic outlined in the strategic plan, “Roadmap to Ending the HIV Epidemic in Houston,” over the past eight months:
In the Texas Legislature, we stopped efforts to make living with HIV a crime. As a result, no HIV criminalization legislation was introduced during the 2017 legislative session.
For the first time in years, a bill on opt-out HIV testing was heard in a legislative committee. The bill would make an HIV test a routine (annual) screening procedure, with patients able to opt-out.
We testified in support of quality-based measures for Medicaid recipients living with HIV. The bill was signed by the Governor and went into effect in June. Legacy led its fourth biennial statewide HIV advocacy day in Austin. Over 100 attendees from across Texas heard from Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), received training on policies for treatment and prevention, and visited one-on-one with legislative staff.
END HIV is in its first year of a pilot program to improve cultural competency among Houston/Harris County health care providers. The goal of the pilot is to increase access to care for the communities most impacted by HIV. To deepen our knowledge of the barriers to accessing health care experienced by these communities (both real and perceived), we conducted a public opinion survey titled Health Experiences. We are still evaluating the survey results and will document our findings and recommendations of this research this fall.
In June, in partnership with the Houston Health Department, we held a community meeting – attended by Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine and HIV pioneer, to provide an update on all HIV work completed over the previous six months. Representatives from Texas Department State Health Services, Ryan White Grant Administration and the Ryan White Office of Support discussed accomplishments, trends and plans for future work. The meeting allowed us to announce the beginning of implementation of the Roadmap plan.
Creating one plan for Houston
To avoid duplicating efforts and to improve coordination of HIV prevention and treatment activities in Houston, we worked with the Ryan White office of support to integrate END with Ryan White’s Comprehensive Plan to unify all HIV efforts under one umbrella.
The road ahead
We will be reconvening the END work groups (which developed END’s Roadmap to Ending the Epidemic in Houston plan) to develop key implementation strategies, milestones and specific action steps for the next 12 months. We are also soliciting public participation of new members to serve in the work groups. In addition, we will be conducting physician focus groups to gauge their understanding of the cultural complexities of those most affected by HIV, as a way to improve access to care.
Stay tuned and join the fight. #ENDHIVHou
Venita Ray is the public policy manager at Legacy Community Health and director of the citywide END HIV Houston campaign.