Yesterday, honorees of the 2016-2017 ADAP Leadership Awards were announced by the ADAP Advocacy Association (). The awards recognize individual, community, government and corporate leaders who are working to improve access to care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS ®— including the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). This year's honorees reflect the organization’s conference theme, "Unchartered Water: AIDS Drug Assistance Programs in the Age of Trump."
The timing yesterday of the awards announcement was only fitting, as three Republican Senators joined all 48 Senate Democrats to kill the so-called "skinny bill" designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare). So far this year, ADAP stakeholders — and many others — have been consumed by the uncertainty over the future of the ACA and the protections afforded to people living with HIV/AIDS. Whereas the "Age of Trump" is still unfolding, ACA repeal threatened the care for thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS either through ADAP premium assistance, Medicaid expansion, or ACA marketplace subsidies. That uncertainty has abated, at least for the short term.
Within the HIV/AIDS advocacy community, we are fortunate to be surrounded by so many inspirational leaders. They, too, serve as a reminder about the daily challenges faced by people living with HIV/AIDS, and yet how it is possible to overcome them. That is why it is important to reflect on the accomplishments achieved by individual, community, government and corporate leaders working to improve access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS.
The awards will be presented to this year's honorees during the 7th Annual ADAP Leadership Awards Dinner, which is being held in Washington, DC on Saturday, September 23rd. The following leaders will be honored:
- Lifetime Achievement (individual): Paul Arons, MD & Paulette Heath
- Champion of the Year (individual): Britten Pund, Director, Health Care Access, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
- Emerging Leader of the Year (individual): Khadijah Abdullah, Founder, RAHMA and Muslim Nannies
- Corporate Partner of the Year: ViiV Healthcare
- Community Organization of the Year: The Resource Group, Inc., Houston, TX
- Lawmaker of the Year: The Honorable Marilyn Avila, General Assemblywoman (N.C.) & The Honorable Scott Wiener, State Senator (Calif.)
- Social Media Campaign of the Year: Pozitively Dee Discussions, by Davina Conner
- Grassroots Campaign of the Year: Network Empowerment Project (NEP) by SERO Project
- Media Story of the Year: “America’s Hidden H.I.V. Epidemic” by Linda Villarosa, published in the New York Times on 06/06/17
Only the third time this award is being presented, it is being bestowed on two individuals who dedicated much their professional careers fighting the disease. Both are now retired.
Dr. Paul Arons has been advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS for several decades, never wavering in his commitment to promoting access to affordable care and treatment. He served as the medical director for the Florida Department of Health AIDS Program, where that state ADAP resides. Paul remains involved in national advocacy, working with numerous national organizations. He continues to provide consulting to the Florida ADAP, and other regional and national organizations interested in ensuring optimal access to care and treatment for people living with HIV and Viral Hepatitis. Even in his retirement, Paul routinely reaches out to key stakeholders in the community to keep stakeholders updated on potential threats to safety net programs, such as Ryan White, ADAP, and Medicaid.
Paulette Heath was been a leader in the pharmaceutical industry at forging relationships with patient groups. During her tenure at Janssen Therapeutics, she continually sought input from community stakeholders, including hosting meetings in Washington, DC. Paulette ensured that Janssen Therapeutics was an informed industry partner, whether it through funding projects and events, sharing information about ADAPs, or promoting cross collaboration with other stakeholders. There was rarely an ADAP-related event whereby Paulette was not present, thus further demonstrating her commitment to improving access to care and treatment.
The ADAP Champion is the organization's oldest award, pre-dating the Annual ADAP Leadership Awards — which started in 2010. This year's award represents an important milestone, because it is the 10th time it is awarded.
Britten Pund has for many years been instrumental in advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS, and providing data to support the efforts of countless community organizations. Unrelenting in her mission, Britten works daily to ensure patients have access to ADAP resources, and professionally manages communications between pharmaceutical companies, AIDS Service Organizations, state agencies, healthcare providers, and others always keeping people living with HIV/AIDS as the top priority. For many years, Britten has helped to produce the ADAP monitor report annually for NASTAD. This data has broad value and reach contributing to ADAP decisions at the federal level, and state general assemblies across the country. She has presented at the Annual ADAP Conference for each of the last six years, and is expected to participate again this year.
Emerging Leader Award
Khadijah Abdullah started RAHMA, which addresses HIV/AIDS primarily in the American Muslim community. At the same time, RAHMA does not turn anyone away regardless of religious beliefs. According to RAHMA's website, "Rahma is the Arabic word for mercy. It is important to have mercy and compassion when supporting those living with HIV and spearheading educational efforts." In a very short period of time, Khadijah has positioned herself as a leading voice for an important marginalized community and achieving some pretty significant milestones. She has raised awareness about the important role Faith plays in the holistic continuum of care for many people living with HIV/AIDS.
Corporate Partner Award
ViiV Healthcare has launched numerous targeted projects, including community-led responses in resource limited settings and hostile environments for MSM and transgender people; its ACCELERATE! Initiative — which amplifies the voices of black gay men living with or affected by HIV; and its initiative on Closing the Gap in the Latinx Community. Additionally, ViiV's Positive Action Southern Initiative supports all populations living with HIV/AIDS in the South, it prioritizes support for the most impacted populations — including LGBTQ communities, youth, elderly, rural populations, formerly incarcerated, sex workers, and injection drug users.
Community Organization Award
The mission of The Resource Group, Inc. is to maximize all possible medical, psychosocial and educational resources to help persons affected by or at risk of HIV/AIDS with a primary focus in Northeast, Deep East and Southeast Texas. In September 2016, the Texas Department of State Health Services awarded funding to The Resource Group. Inc. to help improve the ADAP applications process by implementing ADAP workers at Ryan White agencies throughout Texas. As the only non-profit Ryan White Part B grant administration agency in Texas, we developed a system to implement, train and monitor the ADAP workers in a 51 county region, which includes rural East Texas and Houston.
Former Representative Marilyn Avila served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 2007 - 2016 representing Wake County, and served as a chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee. As a chair, she paid special attention to the budget for the NC AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and was committed to maintaining full funding for the program to guarantee all eligible individuals could receive medication. In 2016, she championed an effort supported by NC AIDS Action Network to expand access to care for ADAP to secure premium assistance for patients. Rep. Avila has also supported efforts to move North Carolina toward legalizing syringe exchange programs. In 2015, she was a lead sponsor on a bill to pilot used needle deposit sites, which was approved and paved the way for full needle exchange approval in 2016.
State Senator Scott Wiener was a vocal critic of the California Department of Health’s debacle over the state AIDS Drug Assistance Program contract, which resulted in interrupted treatment for clients, as well as possible data breach of client information. He commented, “I understand that the ADAP system is currently offline for an indefinite amount of time due to potential security breaches. Not only am I extremely concerned that personal information of ADAP clients may have been compromised, but also that the entire ADAP system is down during the height of open enrollment. Frankly, I am astounded that these system issues have yet to be resolved and continue to arise six months into the transition.” Senator Wiener was relentless in asking the tough questions that eventually led to the California DOH reversing course when it was evident that people living with HIV/AIDS were falling through the cracks.
Social Media Campaign Award
Pozitively Dee Discussions is a podcast hosted by Davina "Dee" Conner. Positively Dee Discussions promoted the Red Bow Tie campaign, in support of Heterosexual Men's HIV Awareness day on August 16th. It is aimed at supporting straight men with HIV, their needs, and the necessity create circles where straight men can connect and feel comfortable sharing their status. Creating that support helps straight men break through stigma and seek care that will protect their sexual health and their partner's sexual health. The podcast also collaborated with Rev. William Francis of the William Francis Ministries and Campaign Zero in Atlanta to promote the Red Bow Tie campaign on Heterosexual Men's HIV Awareness Day.
Grassroots Campaign Award
The Network Empowerment Project (NEP) was created by the Sero Project to facilitate the creation and strengthening of networks of people living with HIV (PLHIV) networks, whether the networks are focused on advocacy, education, recreation, provision of services or for mutual social support. NEP's goal is to support all such networks and make sure that those living with HIV who are newly-diagnosed are provided the opportunity to connect with the network(s) that can be most helpful to them in navigating the stigma, isolation, fear, loneliness, complicated treatment decision making and healthcare access issues and more.
Media Story Award
Authored by Linda Villarosa, "America’s Hidden H.I.V. Epidemic" highlighted why America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher H.I.V. rate than any country in the world. It was published in the New York Times on June 6, 2017. The article was widely hailed as long-overdue, sounding the alarm over the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS is having on this marginalized community.
Information about the awards is listed online at www.adapadvocacyassociation.org/awards.html.
Tickets to attend the awards dinner can be purchased online.