Thursday, September 22, 2011

CA AIDS Chief Dr. Roland Resigns;
Takes CDC Job in Tanzania

(Courtesy photo.)
There is sad news out of Sacramento today for people with AIDS and the larger HIV community. Dr. Michelle Roland, pictured, the longtime director of the state Office of AIDS, is leaving her post this week. She's taking a post with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Tanzania. California's loss is Tanzania's gain.

The lives of PWAs were greatly helped by this multi-talented physician, administrator, activist, researcher in the years she served the public as our top AIDS chief. I've criticized her when needed, and also praised her leadership, and I'm sorry to see her move on. Now is the time to state a few ways in which she made life better.

Michelle is an out bisexual who preserved essential treatment and monitoring services, carried out cuts and downsizing equitably and fairly, worked well with politicians, engaged PWAs and service providers with many open group conference calls, oversaw the modernization and clarification of California's perplexing HIV/AIDS epidemiology and surveillance data (even winning written praise from me for that monumental task!), hired only the best folks to work at the Office of AIDS and also kept abreast of the latest prevention and care research.

Governor Jerry Brown is going to have a very difficult time appointing someone to replace Michelle. He'd be wise to consult extensively with her about picking our next state AIDS chief. She has set a high standard, one I expect to continue, especially on the democratic engagement of PWAs, accountability and invaluable transparency fronts.

Hey Michelle, this PWA salutes you, your tenure in Sacramento and wishes you all the best for the future. You have genuinely enhanced the quality of life for many, and for that you should feel proud.

OK, here's her letter announcing the resignation, addressed to her staff:

This is a really hard letter to write to you as I have committed so much of my energy, heart and passion to the work that we have done together - and the relationships we have developed - over the last 4 years and so letting you know that I am leaving is very sad for me. I hope you know how much I truly care for the Office of AIDS, our mission, the lives we touch, and each one of you. Obviously, some of us have had the opportunity to build deeper connections with one another than others of us, and a few of you don’t know me at all, but that does not change the respect and honor and regard in which I hold the staff of our Office of AIDS.

Many of you know that I have had a very long history in East and Southern Africa. I spent a year when I was 16 and 17, in 1979, living in Mombasa, Kenya with an African family as an exchange student. I returned for a year and a half in the early 1980s and spent time all throughout the region. Then in the years before I took this position at the Office of AIDS I had the opportunity to do training and research in the area of HIV prevention after sexual assault in Kenya and in South Africa, a really big problem for women and children in many parts of the world, and especially there. I am still in touch with my family from 1979 and stayed with them whenever I was in Kenya up until taking this job.

When I came to OA, I knew I needed to let go of that work and focus on our domestic epidemic. I have learned so much in my time here! And I have witnessed this office grow and transition and respond to many challenges, shifting environments and even some cool opportunities in amazing ways. We have accomplished so very much to be proud of in these few years – and before that you all accomplished so much more in your time here. OA is in as solid a place at it could be given the fiscal challenges in the state and the hiring freeze. Our managers and staff are simply top notch and could not be more committed and focused on doing what needs to get done to prevent another needless HIV infection and to care for and provide respect and dignity to those living with HIV in California. OA has been and will continue to be a leader among state health departments in this work.

Given the solid foundation that OA is on now (with the critical caveat of all the stresses caused by our vacancies), although I am very sad to do so, I now feel like I can move on to the next stage of my career. So… it is with much excitement that I share with you that I will be moving to Tanzania to take on the CDC’s Global AIDS Program Country Director position there. In addition to HIV, the program is responsible for work on malaria and TB and may be developing a new program soon to reduce maternal mortality. So once again, there will be much for me to learn – and much to contribute.

My last day at OA will be Friday September 23rd. I hope over these next 3 weeks that I get to speak with many of you personally to let you know how much I appreciate you, how much I will miss you, and just to have a moment to connect.

With all my gratitude and a fair shake of sadness, I am always yours (at a minimum in spirit),


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