Friday, August 22, 2008

CA AIDS Chief Releases Calendar;

State Agency Still Invisible

Earlier this month I sent a letter to Dr. Michelle Roland, former ACT UP activist and UCSF researcher, after realizing she had been California's AIDS boss for more than a year, but her tenure up in Sacramento was remarkable for invisibility. It took more than a week to receive a tepid response, one that didn't address my specific concerns, in which Roland makes a standard bureaucratese attempt to prove she's met with people with AIDS and stakeholders not beholden to local health departments or nonprofit AIDS groups.

In response to my separate records request for her calendar and phone logs for her twelve-plus months in power, Roland provided me with her calendar. It's a sixty-page attachment, one that I can't post to my blog, but will share with interested parties, if you send me a request for the document.

The AIDS boss for California, based on reading her calendar, has been quite busy on a number of very important issues, including attending many government advisory panels and board of directors' meetings with private AIDS charities. All well and good, but knowing full-well how such panels and boards are comprised pretty exclusively by HIV negative careerists and how little independent thinking and voices exist within those bodies, Roland's attendance at them does not equal meeting with people with AIDS and other citizens whose jobs aren't tied to AIDS Inc and state funding.

And while it's a step in the right direction that she has shared with me three documents about Office of AIDS activities, she should realize the documents also need to be available on her site, so the public can be educated on the activities. Let more people know about these activities, not just those who file records' requests and make phone calls to find out what the office is doing.

Lack of public forums aside, Roland and the CA Office of AIDS must forthwith begin a real engagement campaign through their web site, and other communication methods, about all the work they do perform. Right now, Roland's web site totally lacks a shred of info on what she and her agency have accomplished in the last year, what they're working on now, especially related to CA's HIV infection stats, and what the agency is up to for the next 3-4 months.

California also needs Roland and her staff to be visible, both before the media and the communities most affected by HIV/AIDS, when HIV issues directly related to our state are in the news.

Here are three examples of stories where Roland and her office's response were missing, but should have been part of the public dialogue.

1. The CDC in June distributed their latest annual gay stats right before gay pride, showing supposed increases, including in California.

2. In July, the Black AIDS Institute of Los Angeles released a frightening report on African-Americans and HIV, including the black community in the state.

3. At the Mexico City AIDS conference, the CDC gave out new allegedly higher HIV stats for America, but one state, California was notably absent from the federal numbers, because of our criminally inadequate HIV stats.

In each instance, Roland wasn't quoted in any story and if the lack of statements and news releases on her web site is any indication about the three developments, she made no effort to explain to the public, regardless of media attention about her reactions, as to what her office and the state government was going to do about the problems. Silence is not an acceptable response.

Here is Roland's reply to my recent post about her and the Office of AIDS:

Mr. Petrelis:

In response to your recent communications, I would like to assure you that, since I assumed my current position at the California Department of Public Health/Office of AIDS (CDPH/OA), I have taken the opportunity to attend numerous local (e.g., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Long Beach, Orange, San Diego, Alameda, San Joaquin, Tuolumne/Calaveras/Amador) and state (CHPG) HIV community planning groups, all of which have a large representation of people living with HIV/AIDS.

I have also visited with numerous public health, community based organization, clinical, advocacy and academic stakeholders in many regions throughout the state. In addition, Office of AIDS managers, staff and I have convened and/or attended many additional meetings and advisory bodies including various stakeholders over the past year. The calendar I sent you demonstrates this activity.

Attached please also find copies of presentations made at 3 of these meetings which will give you a sample of the sort of issues CDPH/OA staff and I have been discussing with various stakeholders.

Thank you for your feedback about the materials available on our website. We have recently migrated to this current site and are now focusing on ensuring that we have appropriate materials there.

Finally, your specific data request is being attended to by OA staff.


Michelle Roland, MD

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