Contact: Jeremiah Johnson, Jeremiah.Johnson@treatmentactiongroup.org
New York City, November 19, 2020 – Treatment Action Group applauds the appointment of Dr. Demetre Daskalakis to helm the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP). We can think of no better public health practitioner to embody true innovation and disrupt the status quo in our national HIV prevention response. New York City’s loss will truly be the nation’s gain.
Dr. Daskalakis’ time at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) in NYC has been a resounding success, where he has consistently made strong community collaboration a central strategic priority in public health efforts. His tenure at DOHMH saw a 41% decline in new HIV infections in the City between 2014 and 2018 as part of a broader community-driven effort to end HIV as an epidemic in NYC. “Whereas too many public health officials respond defensively to community advocacy, Dr. Daskalakis embraced these necessary tensions as an opportunity to create meaningful and lasting change,” said Jeremiah Johnson, Director of the HIV Project at TAG. “We can’t wait to see how he brings his innovative public health leadership, relentless vision and passion for community collaboration to national HIV prevention efforts.”
In 2015 when ACT UP and TAG held a town hall and protest over the abrupt and poorly handled closing of the Chelsea STD Clinic, both Dr. Daskalakis and then head of the Bureau of STIs Dr. Susan Blank saw a chance for broader collaboration. When the City Council invested millions in new resources into the city STD clinics thanks to community advocacy, Dr. Daskalakis and Dr. Blank transformed them with community input – rebranding them as Sexual Health and Wellness Clinics and building them into hubs of care with new rapid access programs for PrEP, PEP, rapid antiretoviral therapy (ART) start, and sexually transmitted disease diagnosis and cure.
“As a consistent and enthusiastic partner with TAG and other community advocates, Demetre strengthened the foundations for our City to dramatically reduce new HIV infections by building a community-centered response to massively scale up access to ART, PEP, PrEP, and STI cures. Demetre’s leadership in NYC was characterized by openness, collaboration, his razor-sharp intellect, and his passion for social justice and complete equity among all affected groups and individuals,” said Mark Harrington, Executive Director at TAG.
Dr. Daskalakis’ commitment to community and sex positivity was especially visible through the public health campaigns he helped realize during his time at DOHMH. The City’s Play Sure campaign was uniquely sex positive and broke new ground for communities that are chronically underserved by HIV prevention initiatives. Dr. Daskalakis also quite literally put himself into the Bare It All campaign which promoted better, more affirming conversations between patients and healthcare providers. His positive affirmation of sexuality and of disproportionately affected communities helped to heal deep rifts with communities that had long felt excluded and stigmatized by previous fear- and shame-based DOHMH public health awareness campaigns. TAG is confident that this level of innovation in community engagement and destigmatization will translate at DHAP under his leadership.
In his tenure at DOHMH, Dr. Daskalakis also ably led the City’s disease control efforts against a variety of pathogens and strove to do so with this year’s COVID-19 pandemic. Annette Gaudino, TAG’s Director of Policy Strategy, stated, “During this year’s COVID-19 catastrophe, unfortunately, sound DOHMH leadership and public health principles were continually compromised by political interference from City Hall, the Governor’s office, and the federal government. In spite of these obstacles, Dr. Daskalakis and his DOHMH colleagues worked hard to provide sound guidance, epidemiology data, and policy recommendations throughout the last nine months.”
Dr. Daskalakis’ move to DHAP comes at a critical and challenging time. The CDC and the field of public health more broadly face a crisis in public confidence following the egregious missteps of the Trump Administration in responding to COVID-19, while continuing to end the HIV epidemic. Our hope is that Dr. Daskalakis’ brilliant leadership will ensure that our efforts to scale up HIV prevention and end HIV as an epidemic are reinvigorated and replenished, and vulnerable communities – particularly communities of color, sexual minorities, and their rights – are prioritized. TAG looks forward to this next phase of collaboration with Dr. Daskalakis at DHAP, seeing how he can bring disruptive innovation with community advocates to the next level, and marshal the resources necessary to end the HIV epidemic across the U.S.
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About TAG: Treatment Action Group (TAG) is an independent, activist and community-based research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, prevention, a vaccine, and a cure for HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C virus. TAG works to ensure that all people with HIV, TB, and HCV receive lifesaving treatment, care, and information. We are science-based treatment activists working to expand and accelerate vital research and effective community engagement with research and policy institutions.