NASW Vice President Darrell Wheeler presented “HIV Testing: Issues for Black & African American Men Who Have Sex with Men” at an Institute of Medicine workshop to identify facilitators and barriers to HIV testing.
The two-day workshop in April in Washington was the first of three that will shape a series of reports for the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy, which has been tasked with developing a national HIV/AIDS strategy this year. President Barack Obama instructed that the strategy reduce the incidence of HIV, increase access to care, optimize health outcomes and reduce HIV-related health disparities.
Workshop participants heard from several experts, including Wheeler, an associate dean for research and associate professor at the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City, on the extent to which health insurance policies and federal, state and local laws limit or facilitate access to HIV testing.
According to Wheeler, who was asked to speak about testing issues for specific populations, effective strategies to rein in HIV must account for the fact that black men who have sex with men (referred to as BMSM) are disproportionately infected with HIV and are less likely than the general population to get screened for the disease.
“Testing is one way to reducing the rates of infection, but not the only route that should be considered,” Wheeler told NASW News. “There needs to be an emphasis on context and structural factors.”
As far as development of a national strategy is concerned, Wheeler believes the approach needs to be integrated across an array of services — housing, employment, criminal justice and so on — and comprehensive, not just about HIV testing.
“This is a complex question to a complex problem,” he said, noting that social workers’ understanding of the person-in-environment and their training in multisystem approaches to client issues are integral to formulating a national strategy.
The next workshop will explore facilitators and barriers to HIV/AIDS care. NASW Senior Policy Associate Evelyn Tomaszewski will address the impact of mental health policies. The final workshop will focus on federal and state policies that may inhibit entry into clinical care or the provision of continuous and sustained clinical care.
For information on NASW’s HIV/AIDS Spectrum Project to enhance and promote culturally competent practice with individuals, families and communities affected by HIV/AIDS, go to NASW HIV/AIDS Spectrum Practice section.