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May 29, 2009  

Alumnus: A Moment of Opportunity in HIV/AIDS

As the new director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, Jeffrey Crowley said he has been granted the one thing he needs most: space.

In a May 22 talk at his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Crowley said the Obama administration has given him the space he needs to work with the AIDS community, cultivate at-risk populations and tackle tough issues as he begins to formulate a national AIDS strategy. “In my first week on the job, I was in the West Wing and talked with senior advisors. Everyone in the room shared a civil rights agenda,” said Crowley, MPH ’94. “This administration doesn’t make politics go away, but there is an openness to addressing the issues.”

In confronting an epidemic that still has 56,000 new infections every year, Crowley said the administration will make sure that prevention and treatment programs reach populations at greatest risk, including gay and bisexual men, African Americans (with a special focus on black women), injection drug users, sex workers and others.

“We have some real opportunities to move forward, [but] we shouldn’t expect that because Barack Obama is our president that everything will be perfect,” said Crowley, MPH ’94.

Many in the AIDS community have already expressed disappointment that President Obama’s first budget continues the federal ban on funds for needle exchange programs. Crowley acknowledged the ban remains in place, but said, “We are committed to lifting the ban as part of an HIV/AIDS strategy.”

Crowley said he has been meeting with key officials in federal agencies that administer AIDS funding as he begins developing the national AIDS strategy.  This strategy would focus on reducing HIV incidence, getting all people living with HIV into care, and addressing health disparities. “I really want to come up with a process that engages federal agencies … [in a way] that is meaningful and that they are accountable for.”

The strategy will begin to come into focus after a year of public input and careful policy development. “Everybody you talk to in the AIDS community will tell you that we have a moment of opportunity. We do have the capacity to make a significant impact on reducing HIV incidence,” said Crowley. “Part of this is the willingness to tackle some tough issues.”

The Obama administration has already taken steps to address the HIV/AIDS issue.  The White House, along with the CDC, recently launched the “Act Against AIDS” campaign, and the President’s budget is proposing $107 million in new resources to respond to HIV prevention and care needs in the U.S.

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland, Crowley has a long history working in AIDS policy. Before joining the Obama administration, he served as a senior research scholar at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute and as a senior scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center. He previously served as the deputy executive director for programs at the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).

Working in the White House is “the privilege of a lifetime,” said Crowley.