Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obama's AIDS Czar Colfax:
No Email Trail Before Leaving SF DPH

When President Obama in March announced he was appointing a new leader for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Dr. Grant Colfax, pictured, of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, my curiosity was piqued about what email discussions Colfax had with the administration before accepting the position.

I wanted to know if he laid out plans for expanded PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, for persons at high-risk of contracting HIV, or advocated for federal funding for needle exchange programs, or ideas to get cocktails to every person with AIDS currently on waiting lists. What about any demands from the administration on what they would require of Colfax as the nation's AIDS czar.

A public records request was sent to Eileen Shields, the SF DPH's public information officer, for any and all emails between Colfax and the White House prior to him resigning from the department, along with his calendar. She replied:

I have been advised that staff has been able to identify a number of e-mail's from Dr. Colfax' archived account that are responsive to your request [...] Whatever negotiations Dr. Colfax did with Washington, DC regarding his new position were done privately and not on his City account, so those e-mail's are not part of the Department's response. But I send you what we have. We do not have his calendar.

Shields provided me with four batches of emails from Colfax's DPH addy. Go to these links to read batch one, two, three and four. Most of the messages he received were from public health colleagues and executives at AIDS Inc groups, congratulating him. The few exchanges he had with White House officials pertain to things like setting up phone chats or his travels plans.

There are no emails from Big Pharma people, which is odd given the huge appointment he had accepted. Bear in mind the tremendous influence Colfax has had already in backing universal test-and-treat policies in San Francisco, and how other health officials want to follow his lead on this.

I imagine executives at Gilead Sciences, maker of Truvada which is soon expected to receive full FDA approval as part of PrEP strategies, are very pleased with this appointment. Back in October, David Tuller in the New York Times reported on a Truvada PrEP pilot study developed with Colfax and SF DPH. The Times noted:

[Colfax] said he hopes that the new research will yield important information about how best to use the emerging strategy. “The question is, will people be able to maintain the regimen?” said Dr. Colfax, whose agency is a major partner in the study. “What are the risks and benefits outside of a randomized clinical trial? Will they want to take the pill, will there be changes in their risky behavior, will they come back to get H.I.V. testing on a quarterly basis?” 

My guess is that Big Pharma communicated with him through a private addy when Obama made his announcement. I sure do wish Colfax had left a substantive email trail at his DPH addy, to give us all a better sense of what the White House expects of him and what his national AIDS agenda will be regarding test-and-treat and PrEP.

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