BY Steven Thrasher
October 20 2009 1:05 PM ET
In August, Helene Gayle, MD, was nominated by President Obama to be the chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS. Gayle comes to the post as president and CEO of CARE USA, an international humanitarian organization that fights global poverty, prevents the spread of HIV, and increases access to sanitation, clean water, and education. Previously, Gayle spent 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she focused primarily on fighting HIV. She was also the coordinator of the HIV/AIDS division for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and she directed the HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
From her CARE office in Atlanta, Gayle spoke to Advocate.com about her new position.
Advocate.com: Dr. Gayle, how do you feel about your appointment?
Helene Gayne: I feel very honored, because in positions like this, people say you have something to offer -- so I am honored to be asked [to serve]. But, I am also pleased that it looks like this current administration will put a high priority not just on the global epidemic, but on the epidemic here in the United States. In many ways, we have done a good job overseas, but I am excited that we appear to be ready to do what we’ve done beyond our own shores here in our own country.
The council is currently co-chaired by Sen. Thomas A. Coburn, MD, who gained notoriety for opposing safer sex as a way to combat HIV/AIDS. How do you feel your leadership chairing the advisory council will change its focus and mission?
I think that the president spoke during his campaign about having a national AIDS strategy, and that we need a truly comprehensive AIDS strategy, which is something we didn’t really have in the previous, or any past, administration. We have multiple agencies working on HIV, and there are agency strategies. When I was at the CDC, we had an agency strategy -- but we didn’t really get to look at how to tackle HIV as a nation: with an integrated strategy that engages all agencies, resources, communities, and the public sector as well as the private sector. Asking for a national strategy will engage communities broadly and lead to change. It’s a great commitment to our nation, particularly when we have done so much in the global community through PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and our contributions to the Global Fund. Of course, we still need to continue our global work, for most [HIV] infections continue to happen outside of the United States.
I’m also optimistic because a lot of the comments coming from this administration are about prevention and not just treatment, which is something previous administrations have not always focused on.
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