Leading Through the Epidemics

Maegan Samuel

During the 2019 Transforming the HIV and Hepatitis Workforce to End the Epidemics workshop, NASTAD convened a cross-section of the critical voices of individuals working in HIV and hepatitis prevention. Jennifer Flannagan (Manager, Health Systems Integration), and Maegan Samuel (Associate, Prevention) led this meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. Participants from Delaware, Mississippi, and Louisiana appeared in a short video to showcase the unique perspective of health department and community-based organization (CBO) staff working in the South. They discuss rationales to why staff retention and workforce development is integral in ending the epidemics as well as lessons learned to share with staff entering the HIV and hepatitis workforce.

The video provides a background of the HIV and hepatitis epidemics in each jurisdiction. Cedric Sturdevant, an Outreach Specialist at AIDS Service Coalition PIER, discussed challenges HIV programs and clients face in the nine counties of the Mississippi Delta, such as transportation and stigma. He spoke to scarce resources for people living with HIV due to the limited number of clinics and support systems. James Dowling, an HIV Surveillance Administrator and Epidemiologist from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services stressed the importance of data collection and surveillance. He emphasized the significance of data and how everything related to HIV prevention and surveillance activities are driven by the data that are collected. In addition, James provided advice for new and experienced staff to continue to be motivated and remember why they chose this field of work.

NASTAD highlighted the great strides the hepatitis workforce has taken towards hepatitis elimination. Alethea Miller, Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, discussed her challenges with hepatitis data collection when she started in the adult viral hepatitis program. She also spoke on the importance of partnership and collaboration between health department and CBOs and how that improved hepatitis C testing and treatment in Delaware. Alison Gaye, the Statewide Syringe Services Program Coordinator from the Louisiana Department of Health, spoke on hepatitis C from the drug user health perspective. They stressed the importance for health departments to break out of silos and meet directly with CBOs and the community. Alison emphasized that health departments cannot rely on the status quo and need to ask more challenging questions in order to break these continuous cycles. NASTAD offers the Hepatitis Technical Assistance Center (HepTAC), an online platform used to build health departments’ expertise and enhance their capacity to eliminate viral hepatitis in a virtual setting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made a major impact on HIV and hepatitis programs and their workforce. Now, more important than ever, it is imperative for members of the workforce to support themselves, encourage staff and fellow colleagues through this uncertain time, and ensure that leadership is prioritizing the ever-changing needs of staff at all levels. The video identified key players and internal and external partnerships leveraged such as epidemiologists, sex workers, people living with HIV, people who use drugs, community members, the faith community, the LGBTQ+ community, local and state health departments, and government officials. Health departments and CBOs should utilize partners and peer organizations to build a coalition to assist with programs and projects. Health departments and CBOs should continually strengthen and nurture relationships and partnerships that have been built. Partner engagement should be meaningful and mutually beneficial. NASTAD also encourages use of this video to create opportunities for dialogue around workforce strengthening, staff development, providing opportunities for community members to attend conferences and workshops, building partnerships, and utilizing key players for meaningful community engagement.

NASTAD provides capacity building assistance (CBA) to health departments and CBOs in the southern United States. The South is defined as the following jurisdictions: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. NASTAD’s efforts support the national Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America initiative to help public health professionals in health departments and CBOs contextualize their roles in ending the HIV epidemic.