Tuesday, August 05, 2008

CA's AIDS Czarina Dr. Roland is Missing

A little more than one year ago, openly bisexual and former ACT UP/San Francisco member Dr. Michelle Roland, accepted Gov. Arnold Schwarnegger's offer to be the state's AIDS chief. The job pays $172,000 annually. Much gushing praise and positive press coverage was generated from the SF AIDS Foundation and the Bay Area Reporter, which reported the czarina oversees the state's hefty $422 million yearly budget and sets HIV/AIDS policies.

I'm concerned this powerful person has not been visible in the community during her first year in her position, so I've sent the following letter to Dr. Roland, to try and draw her out of her shell and persuade to start a public discussion with people with AIDS and advocates who don't work for AIDS Inc.

Once I get her reply, I'll post it here. This is the text of the letter sent to her today.

Dear Dr. Roland,

For more than a year, you've been the most powerful person in state government responsible for prioritizing AIDS budget and policy matters, and I believe now is a good time to evaluate your performance and relationship with the community you serve. I have a number of areas of concern, laid out below, that I ask you to address, as part of a new effort on your part to be visible and in touch with PWAs.

1.) I've not been able to locate any information on your agency's site, or through online search engines, that you've held a single public community forum in San Francisco, or anywhere in the state during your tenure. None of the many PWAs and paid-advocates I've spoken with can recall you holding open discussions on state HIV matters.

Have you held any public forums in San Francisco, and do you intend to hold any in the near future?

2.) Your agency's web page contains no press releases or announcements on your activities in the past year, or activities by your staff and office. Your news section is nothing but links to news from outside institutions. Can it really be that for the past year you and the state office of AIDS have had no news to share with the public and PWAs?

3.) The stats section on your site is woefully inadequate. Only cumulative HIV and AIDS figures are provides, without breaking the data down by month, quarter or year. It is impossible to easily determine if the new HIV stats, infections and reported diagnoses are up, down or stable. While I understand that California's HIV reporting system is not mature and much time and effort is devoted to cleaning up old numbers and report, as new data streams continue pouring into your office, those are not reasons why the state can't currently produce reports detailing both old and new HIV figures.

How soon can your office present HIV stats in a monthly and quarterly format?

4.) It doesn't appear that you, a former street activist, have an open-door policy. There is no info on your agency's site about how to contact you or your assistant. I couldn't find anything on the site explaining how you gather input and feedback from PWAs, and individuals who don't work for AIDS Inc or local health departments, regarding state-funded programs.

Do you want to hear from PWAs and the public?

5.) After two weeks of searching the web and asking around the activist and AIDS Inc communities of San Francisco, and not finding any visibility on your part, I would assign you a failing grade in this subject. However, I wonder, what grade would you give yourself for outreach and visibility to the PWA community and public?

6.) We cannot change the past year, and your lack of public forums or visible reaching out to PWAs. I do wonder if in the coming year you'd be willing to improve your relationship not only with PWAs in your hometown of San Francisco, but across the state? Would you consider actively courting input from PWAs and being visible at the community level?

I hope you'll find the time while you're attending the biennial international AIDS conference this week in Mexico City to respond to my concerns and questions. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you and initiating a public discourse about these HIV issues of mutual concern.

Sincerely yours,
Michael Petrelis

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