Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy and Healthy!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

By Steve Villano

This past year—from one World AIDS Day to the next (December 1, 2007, to December 1, 2008)—has been a time of transformative change, in the life of the country, Cable Positive’s, and my own.

The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is an historic moment, heralding the promise of great change, challenge and hope for the future. It is a moment, like a handful of others in our lives, by which we measure where we were when it happened, and where we want to be to help it unfold. I felt the same way when JFK was elected President in 1960, and at 11 years old, began my journey toward a lifetime of service. I feel that same sense of youthful optimism today, only 49 years later.

It’s been a year packed with powerful, positive changes for the Cable industry and for Cable Positive. Gone are the days of the industry’s year long calendar of benefit dinners--replaced by greater focus and collaboration on the community-based and national awareness programs constituting Cable Positive’s true public service and value. Fortuitously, for the fight against HIV/AIDS, these changes coincided with the CDC’s conclusion that the AIDS epidemic in the US is far worse than previously believed—and that the life-saving role for education as the only vaccine against the disease has dramatically increased the importance of Cable Positive’s work—and the need for growing cable industry & public support.

And, from last December to this one, death--and the potential of a sweet, new birth-- have served as momentous mile-markers in the past 525,600 minutes of my own life. From my mother’s death one year ago, to the joyous news that my son will soon become a father, this has been a year unlike any other for me. Attention must be paid to such transformative events. Action must be taken.

Accordingly, after a nearly-nine year privilege of serving Cable Positive and working with an all-star array of cable industry leaders driven by a desire to do good, I’ve decided to seek to explore some mountains beyond those I’ve already climbed. “Change we can believe in,” is as true at Cable Positive, as it is for the rest of the country, and over the next several months I hope to take an active role in that positive transition of leadership between now and July 1, 2009.

As a passionate change advocate, I believe that the healthiest organizations—and individuals—are those that don’t fear change, but embrace it, as a way to achieve new and even better results. I am confident that the team we’ve built over the years at Cable Positive, headed by our talented Chief Operating Officer Thomas Henning and an excellent Executive Committee and Board of Directors, guided by Showtime’s gifted EVP, Ray Gutierrez, will continue to take the organization to bold, new heights, expand its programs and break exciting ground with all media platforms and audiences. In fact, with our Youth AIDS Media Institute funded by Motorola, and our public service programs of community-building launched by NBC-Universal in New Orleans in May, we are already well on our way.

This has not been an easy decision. I love my work with Cable Positive and what we’ve accomplished over the past nine years, on a tiny budget, and with a small, but mighty team. I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives, and building something—a program, a documentary, an organization—from the roughest of concepts into a powerful tool to make our world a little better place.

I don’t know what awaits, but this much I do know: I’m thankful to be alive today, to be a participant in a time of great change, and to energetically embrace tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving, 2008: A lifetime of people & events deserving of thanks

By Steve Villano

This has been an amazingly historic year in the nation’s history, in Cable Positive’s life, and in my own. I cannot get through a single day without ticking off a “top ten” list of people and events for which I am grateful.

Inevitably, any list of “thanks” is an incomplete one, in a life as full and fulfilling as mine, where I am touched by the grace of good people every day. Here’s my, admittedly, abbreviated attempt:

  • I’m thankful for Barack Obama, his tenacity, his even temperament, and for bringing this country back to its common senses, and injecting us all with a great sense of promise and possibility, especially during tough times;
  • I’m thankful for the inspiring work done in the area of HIV/AIDS by Dr. Helene Gayle, President/CEO of CARES, whom Cable Positive honored in March, along with MTVN’s Bill Roedy and Insight’s Michael Willner, whose lives have also been bright lights to us;
  • I’m thankful to Showtime’s Matt Blank, who I have on record saying that a Cable Positive POP Award is more important to him than an Emmy—although he’s done pretty well in that department as well;
  • I’m thankful to Ann Carlsen, whose generosity jump-started Cable Positive’s “One-for-One” program, bringing much needed anti-retroviral drug assistance to children and families throughout sub-Saharan Africa;
  • I’m thankful to John Evans his untiring efforts to find a cure for this disease, and his incredible support for me, for Cable Positive and his critically important work on the Boards of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Institute for Human Virology, and the NCTA.
  • I’m thankful for Cox’s leader-by-example Pat Esser for always showing up—despite his incredibly busy schedule-- at every Cable Positive Atlanta Chapter event, a practice he began well before he became President & CEO;
  • I’m thankful for Dan Moloney’s passion for education, and how he translated that into a Motorola Foundation grant—the largest single grant in Cable Positive history—which created our Youth AIDS Media Institute, to teach teens how to educate their peers about HIV/AIDS;
  • I’m thankful for the cable industry giants serving on Cable Positive’s Board of Directors, from past chairs Lela Cocoros, Dennis Mangers, Rob Stoddard, David Wicks and Bonnie Hathaway, to present chair Ray Gutierrez, and Cable Positive founder, Jeffrey Bernstein, and to Stuart Benson, Cable Positive’s treasurer, who has become a treasured friend;
  • I’m thankful for Moe Berger, Joel Berger’s father, who passed away this year, and supported the work of Cable Positive after his death, as he had done for 13 years following the death of his son to AIDS-related illnesses;
  • I’m thankful to NBC-U’s Bridget Baker and her incredible colleagues who did an extreme make-over of two HIV/AIDS facilities in New Orleans during the NCTA show;
  • I’m thankful to Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan, for donating his “discarded artwork” to Cable Positive to sell on E-bay, and making a gift of 35 pieces of artwork to the residents of Lazarus House in New Orleans, changing some lives in the process;
  • I’m thankful to Rainbow’s Ellen Kroner, who, without a moment’s hesitation, made a gift of $500 to New Orleans’ Lazarus House, to purchase a camera for a resident who loved amateur photography, and lost everything he owned during Hurricane Katrina. Josh Sapan’s artwork and Ellen’s gift, ended the HIV positive’s man’s 3-year long depression, renewing his zest for life;
  • I’m thankful for having a terrific team of people to work with at Cable Positive, day-by-day, committed to the cause of HIV/AIDS education and awareness, and of improving the lives of people ;
  • I’m thankful for having seen my mother live to 92, battling Polio and paralysis throughout her lifetime, deeply understanding bias and stigma, and remaining relentlessly optimistic and hopeful in the face of great obstacles;
  • And, I’m thankful for the gift of being unafraid to love profoundly, and for the people I love most—Carol, my partner in life for 37 years through all sorts of storms and sunshine, and my son Matt & his wife Nicole, who already have brought us much joy, and will bring us still more in the Spring of 2009, when we become grandparents, for the first time.

I am, above all, thankful to be alive, and participating in a time of great change, challenge, promise and hope for the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Wake Up Call

By Steve Villano

World AIDS Day is less than two weeks away – December 1, 2008 – I think it’s a great time to review where we stand in the fight against the disease and remind everyone that we can do something about these terrible truths:

- There’s still no cure, in fact, two important vaccine trials were abandoned in 2008.

- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were wrong about how many new HIV/AIDS infections are happening each year – by 40%!

- African Americans account for 55% of deaths due to AIDS.

- Hispanics account for 14% of the U.S. population yet account for over 20% of new HIV/AIDS cases.

- Women account for nearly 1/3 of all new HIV infections – most of those infected are through heterosexual contact.

- Teen girls, ages 13-19 represented 43% of aids cases among young people.

- World-wide young people represent HALF of all new HIV infections.

It’s also a fact that HIV/AIDS is 100% preventable; it’s just a matter of getting the word out! So for this World AIDS Day, if you’re too shy to talk to your friends about HIV/AIDS, tell them to turn on the TV where, thanks to the cable industry, they’ll see our PSAs and learn more on our Video-on-Demand (VOD) service, or tell them to visit our newly redesigned web site, cablepositive.org, where they can connect with other people in the fight to end AIDS.

We have work to do and we know it, do you?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Positive Change, Flowing Both Ways

By Thomas Henning

The essence of change this year--both for Cable Positive and for the American political process--has come from the ground up; from community activists to national leaders. The common link in this chain of change across the country and throughout our industry has been forged by whole new applications of technology, designed to make entire governments, as well as non-profit organizations, much more accessible to individual stakeholders.

Barck Obama's incredibly successful campaign for President pioneered use of the internet, not only for political fundraising--where small denominations of contributions amassed to a total of $750 million--but also established the use of websites and social networking sites as superb tools of community organization. It's a lesson that non-profits need to learn well, especially during tight economic times, when usual methods of raising funds for life-saving programs become more & more difficult.

Cable Positive has worked hard to keep pace with sweeping changes in technology, to be more response to the people who support us throughout the Cable industry, and to better serve people with HIV/AIDS in local communities across the country. Last week, at the CTAM Summit held in Boston, Cable Positive unveiled its new, more interactive website as part of a powerful new campaign focusing on Cable Positive as a "public service of the Cable industry," aimed at improving the lives of people in local communities wherever a cable system is located.

Last year, at the NCTA Convention in New Orleans, scores of volunteers from NBC-Universal, Time Warner Cable, SES Americom and other companies, donated huge chunks of their time to help improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS at AIDS residences in the Lower Ninth Ward. This year, MTV Networks provided a team of their talented staff to renovate and redesign part of Iris House in Harlem, NYC. And, as we prepare for the NCTA Convention slated for Washington, DC, in April, 2009, cable companies and networks are already lining up to do volunteer work in community-based AIDS organization's throughout the Nation's Capitol, in collaboration with Cable Positive.

Change has been reshaping the Cable industry over the past several years, and the internet has been growing into as powerful a communications tool as television. Combining the enormous resources of both and using them to deliver--and receive--urgent messages of HIV/AIDS awareness and education to millions of individuals in hundreds of communities, is the kind of positive change we need.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on leading us to put our “hands on the arc of history and bend it, once more, toward the hope of a better day.” Your election as President of the United States on November 4, 2008, was a magical moment many of us only dreamed was possible, as we continue to work hard on matters of great urgency, like conquering HIV/AIDS.

We believe deeply in the “new spirit of patriotism” you have summoned; of “service & responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and word harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.” That’s the spirit that drives us each day in the work we do.

We put our faith in your word, given 6 weeks ago to the United States Conference on AIDS, when you expressed your “commitment to developing a National AIDS Strategy to decrease new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for Americans living with HIV/AIDS.” We applauded then, as we do now, your call for a comprehensive approach, for “aggressive federal actions, including investments that are matched with State & Local initiatives. . .preventing the spread of HIV, getting people into treatment, and expanding access to testing and comprehensive education programs.”

Those goals are the essence of Cable Positive’s mission, as is the equally important one of overcoming the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS—a stigma, which you have said, “is too often tied to homophobia.” You boldly stood that stigma on its head, when you and Michelle took HIV tests on a trip to Kenya.

Now, we need you to break still more barriers. We need you to act as the passionate Editor-in-Chief of Poz Magazine Regan Hofman has urged you to act—to move swiftly to develop and implement a National AIDS Strategy, as HIV/AIDS rages out of control in many communities of color, which, if located in communities in Africa instead of America, would be eligible for PEPFAR funding to fight the disease.

Establishing America’s first-ever National AIDS Strategy need not have any fiscal implication in the initial phase of creating it, and making it as powerful a creed as “Yes, we can.” We want you to apply the same focus, intelligence and organizational follow-through on defeating HIV/AIDS, as you did on winning the White House, and earning, as you eloquently expressed, “the chance for us to make that change.”

We know that eradicating AIDS will not happen overnight. Many of us have been foot soldiers in this war against this disease for more than two decades. We agreed with you, when you summoned the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stating that “we may not get there in one year, or even one term.” But we, too, are hopeful that we will get there. Working with you, we are ready for the enormity of the task that lies ahead.


Steve Villano

President/CEO, Cable Positive

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

P2P is The Way To Be

By Thomas Henning

Kids today need to know accurate facts about HIV/AIDS.

I read a story earlier this week about a suburban St. Louis, Missouri high school in which 50 students might have been exposed to HIV infection. The details are not yet known as to how the exposure might have occurred, or who the individual was who tipped of the county health department, but swift steps were taken by the school district to contain the damage.

According to AP/Google.com, the school district is consulting with national HIV/AIDS organizations in order to “minimize the fallout and prevent the infection – and misinformation – from spreading.” Students from the entire school, which encompasses several towns, are able to receive confidential testing at six stations in the gymnasium. And school superintendent has called two meetings between parents and ministers in the community to increase talks about responsible behavior; he also acknowledges that the students in grades four through 12 have had classes to discuss such behaviors, and their consequences including HIV/AIDS.

While I applaud the school district for not digressing into the 1990’s hysteria we’re all used to seeing in these types of situations, and calling his community into action, I think there’s some new methods of education for students that, after this incident, all schools should be looking into: Cable Positive’s own Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI).

It’s no secret kids talk to each other differently than in a classroom setting, think back to your high school days; remember when calculus sounded like a foreign language before that group study session?

Research suggests that personalized messaging, and messaging coming from a source that individuals deem to be like them, facing the same concerns and pressures, is more impactful and more likely to change ones behavior and attitude. I am of this school of thought and believe that kids teaching kids about issues that affect them tremendously like HIV/AIDS, is more impactful and lasting than hearing about it from an adult, in most cases many years their elder.

The goal of YAMI is to promote peer to peer HIV/AIDS education among today’s youth, by stressing the correct facts about HIV/AIDS and empowering kids to spread awareness messages using today’s multiplatform media devices like cell phones and the internet to get the job done.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Hall of Fame for Cable Positive Advocates

By Steve Villano

Cable Positive is in the house!” to paraphrase the Sportsmen Channel’s Mark Kang, the ever effusive and energetic supporter of the cable industry’s smart, service-oriented initiatives. And, Cable Positive was definitely “in the house” last week and this week—in Denver and New York—at two Hall of Fame celebrations, and a Denver Chapter “Broadway-style” benefit that raised tens of thousands of dollars for local community-based AIDS organizations throughout Colorado.

In 14 years of doing a cable industry musical satire entitled “Positively Cable,”—and raising over $1 million to fight AIDS—the industry’s Denver-based Cable Positive advocates deserve their own very special wing in the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame. Their work has defined both community-building and corporate team building, year after year.

But, that wasn’t the only place “Cable Positive was in the house.” At the Cable Center’s Hall of Fame celebration the following evening in downtown Denver’s new Convention Center, 5 of the 6 honorees had an involvement with Cable Positive. Insight’s Michael Willner, received Cable Positive’s Power Award for Corporate Leadership earlier this year. Scripps’ Susan Packard, served as a long-time member of Cable Positive’s Honorary Chairs, and was instrumental in establishing Scripps’ continual support of our fight against HIV/AIDS at both the local and national levels. George Bodenheimer’s teammates at ESPN, ABC/Disney have been among Cable Positive’s strongest advocates, airing our HIV/AIDS awareness PSAs during their valuable airtime. Bodenheimer’s colleague—Anne Sweeney—was honored by Cable Positive a decade ago, for her leadership in using the power of cable and television in fighting AIDS. Hearst’s Ray Joslin, guided his company’s early support of Cable Positive, and remains an organizational advocate. And Cable Labs’ Dick Green, and his colleague Chris Lammers, provided extensive pro-bono support to Cable Positive when we re-designed and re-launched our highly effective website at the beginning of this decade.

At the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame Dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC last night, Cable Positive’s place as an essential public affairs initiative of the industry was evident in every one of Cable’s honored leaders. Two of the honorees—Time Warner’s Glenn Britt and Showtime’s Matt Blank—had not only been awarded Cable Positive’s Joel A. Berger Corporate Leadership Award, but they’ve integrated working with Cable Positive and our programs at all levels of their companies, in communities across the country. One honoree—Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan, Rainbow will be honored with a Cable Positive Power Award in 2009, at the National Show. And Fox News’ Roger Ailes—whose organization has been a generous supporter of Cable Positive initiatives over the past 5 years—was singled out for praise by Richard Gere, for providing almost half-a-million dollars in pro-bono satellite time in India, to air a public service spot on AIDS awareness, prepared by the Gere Foundation.

Leading the generous advocacy of B & C to donate a portion of the evening’s proceeds to Cable Positive, were long-time Cable Positive supporter and Joel A. Berger Award recipient Bill McGorry, and Cable Positive’s Board of Directors Member, Larry Dunn. All of this on the day when the estate of Joel’s father, Moe—a gentle man, proud of his son’s activism within the cable industry in the fight against AIDS—continued Joel Berger’s legacy of advocacy, with a considerate contribution to the cause.

Yes, Cable Positive is in the house, it’s part of the fabric of the industry and its enlightened leadership, and it is one of the most powerful and effective public service gifts the cable industry has given to the public, and to its own employees.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Longer an Issue?

By Thomas Henning

I am all about my “stories.” I have a few of them and we all get together one night a week and, along with mistress DVR, spend some quality time together. It is a delicious escape, sitting there watching The Hills, Gossip Girls, or Lipstick Jungle and not thinking about the twelve thousand items on my to-do list. I will even watch the commercials, now and then, to see if there is anything interesting. There rarely is.

Why is that? I know that commercials are evolving. Dove teamed up with MTV and Alicia Keys to create a micro-series with fully realized episodic content shown during the commercial breaks of full-sized shows. I was watching The Hills the first time I saw it.

Since then I have seen others on LOGO, TNT, and elsewhere.
They are interesting and I was excited about the idea of commercials telling stories in a longer format spot because it seemed like an effective hook to keep the audience engaged with your message.

I admit that I was excited because of the potential for cause-marketing initiatives. I spent more time looking for the longer format cause-related PSAs but I didn’t find any and I began to ask myself why? Other countries have done it. One of my favorites is from China.

How incredible would it be to have something like this, starring celebrities from sports, music, film, television, and beyond? I mean, why haven’t we done this? This commercial is two years old. It was aired on the subway, on television, and this is China we are talking about.

Look I am not saying it is perfect, but it featured some of China’s biggest film stars, including Andy Lau, which contained grade-school-level content in an engaging format that addressed a number of myths and misinformation. Easy to understand and fun to watch. Come on. The money and effort put into the piece clearly demonstrated to the consumer that the government was putting some effort into addressing the issue. Again, this is China we are talking about. Whatever your position, it marked progress. Are we showing that same progress?

Airtime is expensive and a seven minute spots would be costly. It would cost more to produce and the airtime value would be higher. I get it. That said, I still want to know why? Why are other countries doing this and we are not? Is AIDS really no longer an issue? With the recent announcement of infection rates being higher than previously reported…40% higher…are we still not paying attention?

I don’t know. It makes me sad, and then it makes me mad. There are companies that could pay for it. Pharma could pay for it. The piece could be a tool used by local communities all over the country. It could get us talking about it, again, and keep us talking about it. It could be shown in schools, on the web, in subways, and in-flight movies. I am just saying.

I spend some time, each week, with Blair, Serena, Wendy, Niko, and Lauren Conrad. It would be great to know that while I spend that time with them escaping from my day to day, I could walk away with some tools to make better, more informed choices for the next day. It would be great to know that those tools were made available during programs that didn’t air at 2am. It would be great to know that after 26 years, people still get this isn’t someone else’s problem. It would be great to hear people talking about it at the water cooler.

I don’t think a micro-series is the solution. I don’t think that an AIDS commercial in the form of a musical is the solution. I do think that it can be an innovative approach to finding solutions. Look, if Disney’s success with High School Musical shows us anything, it has shown us that there are new ways to reach younger audiences with great results. What are we waiting for?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doctor Gallo’s Gift

By Steve Villano

This week’s decision by the Nobel Committee to snub Dr. Robert Gallo in handing out Nobel Prizes for Medicine to two other European AIDS researchers, who co-discovered the HIV virus along with Dr. Gallo, was nothing short of an insult to those of us involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the last several decades.

While Gallo was gracious about the slight, and had high praise for his long-time friend and colleague Dr. Luc Montagnier who received one of the awards, the Committee’s decision was not only unfair, but it also undermined the spirit of collaboration that many in the AIDS community know is essential to find a cure and to make progress.

I am not an unbiased observer here. I have known Dr. Gallo for several years, and have followed his work for several decades. More than four years ago, at the invitation of John D. Evans, a long-time supporter of Cable Positive and one of the founders of C-SPAN, Dr. Gallo and I shared a panel with Dr. Seth Berkeley, head of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative before the Washington D.C. Cable Club, which was aired on C-SPAN. I toured the Institute of Human Virology which he founded in Baltimore, met with his Board, and with the dedicated staff who drive the good work of Institute.

Dr. Gallo’s gift, in addition to his dedication of his life and his tenacity toward finding first, the cause, then the cure for AIDS, is a unique ability to make complicated medical & scientific information understandable to the average citizen. Time and time again, when AIDS researchers retreated into the jungle of their jargon, it was Dr. Gallo who interpreted what was needed to members of Congress and the public. It was no accident that the President’s PEPFAR program awarded Gallo’s Institute of Human Virology $140 million to conduct its work at 108 sites in 36 countries. Dr. Gallo is a brilliant communicator and leader, and his Institute does superb, life-saving work.

I know Dr. Gallo, and he is not at all like the public perception of him portrayed in the 15-year old HBO film, “And the Band Played On.” In fact, I have communicated directly to the leadership of HBO that the film does a disservice to Dr. Gallo’s pioneering work, and that each time the film is replayed on college campuses or on cable, it compounds the unfairness to him. I have even recommended a new, updated documentary on the search for an AIDS vaccine, and Dr. Gallo’s crucial role—to this very day—in that noble pursuit. His passion, his persistence in the face of daunting odds, and his daily work dedicated to helping HIV positive people around the world, deserve the gratitude of each of us and the appreciation of a world made better by his presence.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More Will Make a Difference

By Thomas Henning

Perhaps my love affair with community makes me sound provincial. As my daddy would say, I could give a rat’s ass. I never knew what that meant but it always made me giggle even when delivered in lively but less than whimsical tones.

Here is my point. Urban sophistication is more than emulating the latest spread in Vogue, Men’s Vogue, Elle D├ęcor, or Field & Stream. Sophistication, at least in my book, is knowing more and doing better than what is merely expected of you.

When I was growing up, my house was about 5 miles out of town. Every day, I would drive by this broken down house that was still lived in by a family of less than established means. The house was a bit of an eyesore for those in town that considered themselves established. They would sarcastically refer to it as “the compound.”

When my brother and I first moved into town, it was all we heard. Townspeople were almost apologetic to us for having to pass it on our route into town. My brothers got caught up in the elitist hysteria and, once while we were driving by, threw an empty soda can in their front yard. In the middle of the road, I stopped the car and forced them to pick up the can from their yard. They were angry at me for causing a fuss but we had a long conversation about why we didn’t handle ourselves with such entitled disregard that helped to shape each of moving forward.

Don’t let me fool you. I was not a child with an angelic nature. However, even then I understood that fortune is cyclical and how you handle the good fortune will influence how the bad fortune handles you.

Years later, when my brother Sam died, the gentleman, Rick, who lived in that broken down home walked the five miles into town to pay his respects to my brother during his wake. I will never forget that. I offered to drive him home, after the service, and he shared his memories of my brother with me. It was a voyeuristic but profoundly accurate perspective of who my brother was.

He didn’t walk the five miles because we picked up the can. I don’t think anyone was even home that day. He came because of the legacy that my brother, at only 17 years of age, left behind.

To me, that is community. A legacy of character made of as many layers as there are people in that community. People are more because they have more in them to give and are selfless enough to give it.

Take this Saturday. The New York Chapter of Cable Positive is getting together to help Iris House, a community based AIDS organization that provides social services to HIV positive women and their families living in Manhattan. MTV & BET Network employees, along with New York chapter member and Cable Positive staff are giving up a Saturday to help repaint a common space at the agency used by clients and staff for meetings, exercise classes, support groups, and other activities.

If you’d like to help, Iris House is located at 2348 Adam Clayton Jr. Boulevard, New York, NY 10030. We’ll be there Saturday, October 4th from noon to 5pm. Please contact Dana Levitt @ 212.459.1547 or dana@cablepositive.org for more information.

It isn’t much but it’s more and that “more” will make a difference. I don’t think the size of that difference matters. It is the fact that a selfless difference will be made to help those in need of some help.

That is how community, and its legacy, builds. One day a person reaches out their hand and asks how they can help; sits down beside a person and lends an ear; walks by and shares a much needed smile. Little by little, that momentum builds and fortune smiles.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bigger than the Financial Crisis

By Steve Villano

Cable Positive went to Capitol Hill this week to deal with a crisis of monumental proportions with a growing impact in the United States and around the world.

No, not the financial crisis, which brought waves of lobbyists, politicians, and media representatives to Washington all week-long. While public officials and financiers were focused on saving people’s homes, 401 K plans, bank savings and jobs, Cable Positive came to Congress to save people’s lives.

While The Treasury Department and Bush Administration officials lobbied members of Congress hard for a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, Cable Positive, a few elected officials, AIDS activists, and Cable industry leaders from Motorola, Time Warner Cable, Discovery, CTAM & TV One, gathered to share information and ideas on the crisis wiping out our children and our communities of color in the US and globally—HIV/AIDS.

Sponsored by Cable Positive and Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (D-CA) who heads the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, a conference on “Youth, AIDS & Media: Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention,” put the spotlight on the crucial role television, the internet and cell phones can have in educating our young people about HIV/AIDS, particularly since 8-18 year olds spend one-third of each day, engaged with some form of media.

“Young people are watching and sharing more content on their computers and mobile devices and actively engaging their peers through them, than ever before,” said Dan Brenner, long-time Cable Positive Board Member and SVP, Law & Regulatory Policy at NCTA, who was the conference’s keynoter. Brenner underscored the enormous pro-bono and financial contributions of the Cable industry in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and singled out Motorola for special recognition of a $200,000 grant from the Motorola Foundation which enabled Cable Positive to create our Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI).

The Congressional conference was the first of many that Cable Positive will hold around the country to bring more attention and resources to how the HIV/AIDS crisis is crippling entire communities, and what the entertainment industry is doing about it—particularly the cable telecommunications industry through the work of Cable Positive.

“I think it’s our continued responsibility as part of this entertainment community to continue to fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Congresswoman Watson. The cable industry and Cable Positive couldn’t agree with her more.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Small Steps, Lead to Big Change

by Thomas Henning

The use of new media as a tool to spread awareness messages regarding HIV/AIDS is in its infancy but it is growing fast. On Facebook, there are over 500 AIDS-related groups. Games are being developed to raise HIV/AID awareness. One example is Pos or Not, a game that was designed to engage young people about HIV and who it affects in personal ways. This game, which came about through collaboration with MTVU and The Kaiser Family Foundation, had nearly 200,000 unique visitors play in the first 24 hours of its launch.

At the International AIDS Conference (IAC), Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS put it best when he said, “It is time that prevention programs embrace Facebook, texting, all the communication means, the new information technology that young people are using. It is not by billboards that we are going to introduce social change and personal behavior on a large scale.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Piot. I mean, New Media is part of our everyday lives and it would seem in any agency’s best interest to put some time in developing a plan that incorporates media, both new and traditional, in its prevention outreach strategies.

Cable Positive is not only embracing new forms of media as a tool to engage users in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we are also creating new initiatives that encourage individuals and communities to do the same. These new initiatives will not only embrace new forms of media, and take advantage of this new era of media literacy, it will teach people how to use these new forms of media to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.

Here is the thing, when you have resources like some of the national groups do, it is easier to develop these new media strategies. When funding is as much an issue for you as it is a rural ASO/CBO, more opportunities may be available to you. The thing is, even if you don’t have the resources you have the opportunity and I think that is something that a lot of individuals and organizations do not understand.

During the coming week, I will be holding a couple of workshops during NMAC’s United States Conference on AIDS in Fort Lauderdale. I will be discussing how organizations can use media, both traditional and new, to strengthen and diversify their prevention efforts. I will touch on a couple of initiatives that Cable Positive is funding as examples. Together we will work together to come up with an outline that people can take back to their communities to use.

Cable Positive’s new initiative, YAMI, or the Youth AIDS Media Institute, will encourage the use of all the mediums Dr. Piot called attention to at IAC to fully engage youths on their playing field. There needs to be a catalyst for change, using new forms of media could provide that spark.

After the conference, the Cable Positive team will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to discuss YAMI with elected officials. That’s right, on September 24, 2008, Cable Positive will be on Capitol Hill to hold a breakfast panel hosted by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (CA), who chairs the Entertainment Industries Caucus, titled “Youth, AIDS, and Media: Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention.”

We’ll discuss the ways young people have, and can have an impact on spreading HIV/AIDS awareness messages using platforms like text messaging, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

With the rollout of YAMI we hope to stand beside organizations around the country and take a step out of infancy and start taking steps forward. You know, maybe they will be small steps at first but, in my opinion, it is the small steps that lead to the biggest change.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Abstaining from the Facts

By Steve Villano

The problem with teaching abstinence from sex to teenagers is that it’s based upon the premise of doing nothing. “Abstinence-only education” is, in fact, the absence of education about sex. Is it any wonder, then, that teenagers who are taught nothing about sex, know very little about it, except to follow the natural instincts of all sexually mature living beings and have it?

And when they have sex, as numerous studies have shown, without being taught to protect themselves from STDs, HIV or pregnancy, teenagers spread STDs, contract HIV, or get pregnant. This is not very complicated stuff. Teach people how to have safer sex and protect themselves by using condoms, and you can reduce the high rate of transmission of infectious diseases among the young, and the rate of teen pregnancy. Teach them nothing about sex and how to protect themselves if they have it, and they’ll be clueless about protection.

During the last decade, the federal government spent $1.5 billion of taxpayer dollars on “abstinence-only education” programs. A Congressionally mandated review found that that money was wasted since students in such know-nothing programs delayed sex no longer and had no fewer partners than anyone else. When they did have sex, which was often, they had little or no information about how to reduce the risk of disease or pregnancy. And, no one has whispered a word to them about the emotional issues they’ll have to deal with.

Abstinence ideologues have misguided government funding on this issue at home and abroad, and while, the new PEPFAR program lifted the ban on teaching sex education in Africa, Asia and other nations with a high rate of HIV infection, know-nothingism is still the rule when “teaching” about sex in communities across the U.S. A recent CDC study found that more than one in four young women between the ages of 14-19 in the US—or some 3.2 million teenage girls—is infected with at least one STD. Among young Black women that rate is doubled. For AIDS cases alone, teenage girls represent 43% of new cases reported in that entire age group.

Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter is a lucky young woman, blessed with a family that loves, accepts & supports her, whatever the consequence of her sex without protection. Not all pregnant, unmarried 17-year olds are so fortunate. For many, the absence of education about sex, and the consequences of their impulsive, youthful actions, threaten their health, and drive them into poverty, isolation from their families or suicide.

It’s too steep a price to pay for an ideology at odds with the facts of life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Condom, Condom, Condom

By Thomas Henning

I’ll own it. I love technology. I love the comfort; the whimsy; the convenience it brings into my life.

I adore when my phone rings and the theme song from Dynasty plays, letting me know that it is one of my high-maintenance friends calling. I appreciate that I can have the number and address of the restaurant I am meeting friends at sent to me via text message when I call information. I even love that I can go online and send people “hugs, pokes, and an occasional piece of flair.”

Imagine how excited I was when I found I could download a ringtone that repeated the jingle “condom, condom.” I mean, I spent two hours re-assigning the appropriate people on my phone list with the new ring tone. The jingle is super catchy and so damn cute it had me giggling harder than I did as a child watching Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares.

Okay, so here is the story. Recently, the BBC World Service Trust, an international charity of BCC, produced a cellular phone ring tone in India that recites a jingle repeating the words “condom, condom,” and have made it available to download for free online, at condomcondom.org. Oh yeah, click this site

This is phase III in a 4-part campaign targeted at making condoms socially acceptable and improving the image of condom users as a smart and responsible people. Campaign organizers are hoping this new approach will spark discussion among people about HIV/AIDS and practicing safe sex.

Love this campaign and think it is a great first step into using new forms of media to engage people, especially youth, about safer sex, HIV/AIDS prevention tools, and thoughts around said tools.

In fact, Cable Positive is launching a program to do just that. A program that educates and empowers youth to create their own multi-platform media campaign with an HIV/AIDS message aimed at their peers. You hear me, a message created by youth for youth. In fact, they will be driving the process and given the tools to take back to their community to educate and inspire their peers to do the same. Cable Positive, and the YAMI team, will be arming the youth with the education and know-how to use media, in all its various forms, as an advocacy tool.

Our initiative, called The Youth AIDS Media Institute, or YAMI for short, takes direct aim at young people, and the important role they play in halting the spread of new HIV infections. Right now, the first phase of YAMI is underway in the form of a community outreach grant. The grant will fund projects like web-based training sessions created by young people, and a text messaging campaign produced by youths.

Young people are a key demographic in halting the spread of HIV because they are unique in the ways they can be reached. Youths account for one of the largest at risk populations for contracting the disease, yet they subscribe to the most diverse array of media channels on the planet. In the US cell phone use is higher than anywhere else on the planet, especially in urban areas like New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles where land lines are like VCRs.

Standing O to the BBC World Service Trust and their “condom, condom” campaign. They clearly get it. Meeting your audience where they are at is not only good business it is good sense. You mobilize entire communities by engaging them where they live and giving them motivation to share what they learn with others. They empowered and educated the people of India and the people of India enjoyed it so much they shared it with others.

That is my vision for Cable Positive’s YAMI program and we are already on our way. Through the YAMI Community Outreach grant, we are providing funding for youth to use new media platforms to make a change in their communities. Cable Positive with the help of Motorola, and the entire cable industry, will continue to help spread HIV/AIDS awareness messages in an even larger scale in the months to come. Better yet, we will continue to encourage and inspire young people to do the same. Like I said, I love technology.

By the way, go to www.condomcondom.org and download that ringtone. I am telling you, it will generate more buzz than Gossip Girl and isn’t that the point?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Cost of a Closed Culture

by Steve Villano

While the world’s attention was riveted on Beijing last week, mine was focused on a Chinese friend of mine who was visiting New York. He had come to New York for a visit, and I was the first person he told that he was HIV Positive.

He had known since May, but was terrified of telling anyone in his home country about his HIV status. He knew how people would react, and it would not be the way the fans at the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing were cheering their athletes.

My friend is not a teenager; he is close to 40 years old, single, has an extraordinarily successful career, and considerable wealth. There was no financial barrier to seeing a doctor for him—only a cultural one.

So, he came to New York on vacation, and told me his HIV status, and that he was not on any medications, did not know his T-cell count, nor his viral load. I did what anyone who has worked many years in the area of HIV/AIDS education and prevention would do—I arranged for him to see a doctor, get re-tested, find out some important facts about his status, and get on meds, if he needed them.

We scheduled an appointment for him with a top physician at APICHA—the Asian/Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS. He was a “self-pay” patient—a rarity at many financially strapped AIDS service organizations—but that did not matter. He was treated with the same dignity and compassion that all of APICHA’s clients receive—and they serve the largest number of Asian/Pacific Islanders in the entire Northeastern US.

My friend was impressed with the quality of care he received, the comfortable and confidential manner in which he was treated, and the fact that his case was handled in a completely medical/scientific and non-judgmental way. He only wished he could get the same kind of care in his home country.

He learned from the doctor he saw at APICHA that his T-cell count and viral load were well within normal range, he was STD-free, and that he did not need to go on medication just yet. He was told he needed to see a doctor every three or four months for an updated assessment of T-cells and viral load—in the event it became necessary to place him on an anti-retroviral drug routine. That would not be a problem, he said, if he lived in NYC or in the US, but getting such care at home might be as difficult as defeating Michael Phelps in a swimming competition.

My friend is fortunate that he found out early that he was HIV positive, can travel the world at will, and pay for doctors in NYC or San Francisco or Europe. But, there are millions of others just like him, without means or access to medical care, whose cultures force them to keep their HIV status very quiet, until the virus makes its presence impossible to hide, or to live with.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Gold Medals in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

By Steve Villano

The past few weeks have been filled with momentous news and developments concerning HIV/AIDS worldwide, and in the United States. First, the National Institutes of Health announced that is was abandoning a major vaccine clinical trial. It was the second such bad-news announcement about an important vaccine trial in the past year—leaving education as the only vaccine we have. Then, the CDC admitted that it had seriously undercounted the number of HIV infections in the US by as much as 40 percent, calling into question its education and prevention efforts in communities around the country.

Last week, the 17th International AIDS Conference concluded in Mexico City, with 25,000 delegates from around the world calling for a full-scale campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease, which prevents millions of people—in the US and abroad—from seeking the medical assistance they need. If all of these developments underscored one thing it is that the need for Cable Positive and for corporate social responsibility in fighting HIV/AIDS is greater than it has ever been in the 16 years of the organization’s existence. The question is, will we have your financial support to do the job?

The Washington Post recently published an article about the amazing Dr. Helene Gayle, Cable Positive’s 2008 Humanitarian Award Winner for her decades of work in fighting this disease. Cable Positive’s Benefit Dinner held in March of this year, also honored Insight’s Michael Willner and MTV Networks’ Bill Roedy for their corporate and individual leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Now, consolidation of the Cable industry calendar has changed the playing field for Cable Positive. Cable Positive’s Annual Benefit Dinner—which had been our single largest source of income to support our programs & services—has gone the way analog TV is going in February—it’s disappearing. Instead, we’ll be recognizing governmental, humanitarian, and cable industry leadership making a difference against HIV/AIDS at a joint NCTA/Cable Positive Chairmen’s Reception at the National Show in April, 2009—an historic first.

If gold medals were given out for corporate social responsibility championships, the Cable industry would sweep every category simply on the strength of its unparalleled work with Cable Positive. Unfortunately, gold medals are not being minted to fight HIV/AIDS. Neither is cash.

So, how will Cable Positive raise the funds it needs to deliver our programs and services to the communities and individuals cable companies serve? How will we continue to raise the kind of grant money we’ve donated to 300 community-based organizations in 45 States, touching tens of millions of lives? How will we continue to produce & distribute award-winning PSAs on HIV/AIDS awareness & prevention, or documentaries such as “Women & HIV” which Showtime Networks aired in November, millions more cable subscribers saw on VOD, and community-based health clinics around the country requested as an educational tool? How will we continue to build on the multi-million dollar investment of money and the billion dollar investment of airtime the cable industry has made in this monumental battle against AIDS that far outpaces anything done by our competitors in satellite or telephone?

In December, 2007, the Motorola Foundation gave a huge vote of confidence in Cable Positive’s work by donating $200,000 to create our Youth AIDS Media Institute specifically to train young people about peer-to-peer education on HIV/AIDS, using all types of platforms of communications. Showtime’s CEO Matt Blank and Carlsen Resources CEO Ann Carlsen donated thousands of dollars to help launch our “One to One” matching grant program to provide direct services to those most in need of assistance. Earlier this year, Joel Berger’s father Moe, passed away and left a $10,000 gift to Cable Positive to continue our work, because he believed passionately in what we are doing—some 13 years after his son’s death from AIDS-related causes. And, year after year the John Evans Foundations donates $25,000 to Cable Positive to educate as many people as we can reach about the disease.

Validation of our work has also come from other quarters. The Wall Street Journal has reported favorably on our national awareness, education & prevention campaigns, and our use of a “cable roadblock”—in prime time-- to get our messages out. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has described our approach to fighting HIV/AIDS as unique because it is both a resource for the industry and a vehicle for it to act collectively on a critical issue.” And, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health has recognized Cable Positive and the cable industry with its’ prestigious Leadership in Corporate Responsibility Award.

This year, Cable Positive has also begun raising funds to carry out our educational mission. Through Cable Positive’s eBay store consumers around the globe are shopping to support the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS, thanks to donations of special items from NBC Universal, Fox Cable and Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan.

With Education STILL the only vaccine available to us – and with cable television, the internet, and text messaging being the most effective HIV/AIDS delivery systems in existence – we need your support now, more than ever before. We have a great deal of work to do, and we need the resources to do it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our Communities are Burning

By Steve Villano

The big news out of Mexico City this week—where thousands of delegates are gathered for the 17th Annual International AIDS Conference—is that while the United States has just allocated $50 billion to fight AIDS worldwide over the next five years, HIV cases in the US are raging out of control.

In a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC admitted that it had under-reported the number of new HIV infections occurring in the US annually by some 40 per cent. Using 2006 as the most recent year for which the latest figures are available, the CDC found that 53,300 people became HIV positive in that year, compared with the 40,000 per year statistic the agency has been citing annually.

The respected British scientific journal The Lancet, said that the “U.S. efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally,” in criticizing the CDC’s refusal to release the startling new statistics it has had since last fall. CDC officials have pointed to new HIV testing methods as the reason for the increase in the reporting of new infections.

Whatever the official reasons, those of us involved in the day-to-day combat with HIV/AIDS are not surprised by the enormous undercount of HIV infected Americans.

We have long known that accurate reporting of HIV infections was woefully insufficient in communities of color and among gay and bisexual men. The latest findings confirm what local AIDS service organizations have known for years: that HIV/AIDS has its greatest impact among gay & bisexual men of all races, and among African-American men and women.

And, the new HIV infection figures point to the urgency of the federal government—and non-profit organizations like Cable Positive—to do much, much more on HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention. California Congressman Henry A. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that, “HIV prevention has been under funded and too often hindered by politics & ideology. “ Congressman Waxman pointed out that, “since 2002, when adjusted for inflation, CDC’s HIV/AIDS prevention budget has actually shrunk by 19 percent, and that the President has recently requested additional decreases in funding for HIV prevention at CDC.”

Waxman’s words were echoed by the head of the CDC’s prevention efforts, Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who told the New York Times, that the “CDC’s new incidence estimates reveal that the HIV epidemic is and has been worse than previously known.”

For an organization that specializes in communicating messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention, Cable Positive’s work is now, more important than ever before. The AIDS epidemic is a global crisis, and domestically, HIV infection is a growing emergency, that the communications industry—working directly through Cable Positive—has the means to fight. Our communities are in flames, and just as local cable systems and networks would provide public service announcement and programs aimed at fire prevention to protect the neighborhoods they serve from destruction, delivering messages of HIV/AIDS prevention is our civic, moral and corporate responsibility

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ending an Era of Shameful Discrimination

By Steve Villano

The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, from a poem by Emma Lazarus, enunciates clearly what we all believed the United States stood for in the world:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to be free—“

It said nothing about discriminating against people who were HIV positive. That shameful quarantine took a hostile act by some prejudice members of Congress 20 years ago – including the late Senator Jesse Helms – acting out of the anti-AIDS hysteria of the 1980’s.

This week, the House of Representatives and the President of the United States, can scrub out a despicable blot from America’s history, by approving the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which passed the US Senate last week. The PEPFAR bill, which allocates $48 billion to fight AIDS globally, and $2 billion to focus on health issues of American Indians, includes two other important provisions:

· One to ease the US HIV/AIDS travel restrictions;

· The other, overturning an existing law that requires one-third of funding for HIV/AIDS prevention is spent on abstinence only programs.

Until the travel ban upon HIV positive visitors and immigrants to the U.S. is lifted, our country is continuing a harsh, hateful, discriminatory policy practiced by such countries as Libya and the Sudan. But even if the House and President approve the bill, the travel ban may still be used to keep HIV positive people out of the United States, if the Department of Health & Human Services decides to continue to keep them out, or drags its feet over implementation of the new provision until a new Administration comes into power in Washington.

Despite a pronouncement by HHS’ own CDC in 1991 that “admission of people with HIV would not significantly increase the risk of HIV infection to the US population,” Congress turned the ban into a law two years later. As it now stands, HIV/AIDS is the only medical condition specifically enumerated in US Immigration Law as a bar to getting into this country.

The International AIDS Conference held in Toronto two years ago—and the one scheduled to begin next week in Mexico City—a major international health conference not held in the US over the past two decades because of our discriminatory ban—are two powerful reminders that the rest of the civilized world has moved past hating and fearing people who are HIV positive. It’s long past time we did, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where's Our Domestic AIDS Plan?

By Steve Villano

This week, the US Congress is voting on whether or not to reauthorize the PEPFAR funding for International AIDS Relief at a level of $50 billion over five years. Each country that receives PEPFAR funding from the United States is required to submit a detailed National AIDS Plan to explain how they will apply the funds to battle the epidemic. Ironically, the United States has no such comprehensive plan for our own country. The article below reprinted from The American Prospect magazine, outlines what such a National AIDS Plan for the United States might look like.

Where's Our Domestic AIDS Plan?

The U.S. expects other countries to put together a national AIDS plan before they receive funding. But we don't even have our own national AIDS strategy.

Before the United States will consider giving AIDS funding to another country, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief requires the foreign government to create and implement a national AIDS strategy. "At the core of the implementation strategy," the requirements explain, "is a robust ongoing in-country planning effort" meant to "identify relevant U.S. government agencies, existing resources, needs, gaps, partners, programs, objectives, performance measures, staffing, and technical assistance requirements."

A national AIDS strategy, the requirements conclude, is "critical to the success" of the program. It is so critical, in fact, that U.S. officials might want to follow their own advice. More than a quarter-century since AIDS was detected in the United States the government has never fully implemented a strategic plan here at home. Meanwhile, domestic infection rates haven't fallen in more than a decade and, as recently as 2005, more than 17,000 people died from the virus.

"We don't really have in the United States a comprehensive, cross-agency strategic plan to do better in our own domestic AIDS epidemic," explained Chris Collins, the author of a blueprint for a national AIDS plan, released last year by the Open Society Institute. "There's been a realization that, 'Wow, we're doing great things overseas … but we really haven't attended to the epidemic at home sufficiently.'"

Instead, the domestic response is built on a loosely connected network of local, state, and federal programs. Authors and activists often describe this existing HIV/AIDS programming as a safety net. But the metaphor is not quite apt. There's only a tenuous connection between the organizations. There's little strategic coordination and no clear goals. The result is that people who are at risk or infected don't know where or how to access care. In 2002, an estimated half of people with HIV/AIDS were not receiving care.

"We have a lot of really successful, important HIV programming in this country," Collins said. "But we're not using it to full effect to actually accomplish specific outcomes." Rather than a net, the more appropriate imagery would be of life preservers, some large, some small, floating largely independent of each other.

"What we have right now in a lot of areas of HIV is much more a scattershot approach," he said. "Good programs happen, they're written about, perhaps. But there's no one in charge of bringing these programs to scale."

A coalition of leaders from several domestic AIDS activist organizations is working to change that. Spurred by the publication of Collins' blueprint, the group, National AIDS Strategy (NAS), formed with an agenda of mobilizing broader support for a national strategy, while also providing guidance for what that strategy should look like.

Drawing from Collins' report, the group drafted a list of seven requirements for a national strategy. That the guidelines -- improving outcomes through evidence-based programs, setting "ambitious and credible" national targets, identifying clear priorities, focusing on the communities most at risk -- read something like a business proposal is intentional.

"If the response to AIDS in the United States were a well-run business," Collins said, "you would set objectives for a certain time period in the future, you would identify strategies to accomplish those objectives, then you would measure how well you did and retool and reassess along the way."

A national AIDS strategy would help coordinate the various moving parts necessary to effectively stem the virus' impact -- care and prevention strategies, local and national interventions, statistical and on-the-ground efforts.

From a prevention perspective, it would encourage communities to identify particular areas of need and import successful programs from other parts of the country. It would also help prioritize funding for projects that are already successful and facilitate better research into promising prevention techniques. For patients who are already infected, it would streamline the process of getting appropriate treatment and ensure that they are covered.

For local organizations working within specific communities, the difficulty of doing work without a national strategy is that they face incredible obstacles in dealing with the "layer upon layer" of federal and state AIDS programs and multiple funding cycles, Mario Perez, the director of the Office of AIDS Programs & Policy in the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, explained during a May congressional briefing. A national strategy would streamline the process of securing funding.

A national strategy, Collins said, "orients everybody: federal workers, people working in the public sector at the state and local level, but also people working in the community around really improving outcomes in particular areas."

In the meantime, NAS has already gotten to work on one of its key goals: involving "many sectors in developing the national strategy." It organized the congressional briefing and garnered money from the MAC AIDS Fund for a large-scale mobilization effort. The group's Web site features pledged support from more than 250 organizations and more than 850 individuals.

As Collins pointed out, though, the effectiveness of any national strategy will depend in large part on the backing of just one individual: either Barack Obama or John McCain. While grass-roots support is critical to the successful implementation of a national strategy, jumpstarting the effort will take leadership on a presidential level. The new president must be willing to convene a national task force to draft the strategy and willing to force cooperation and compliance from a cross-section of national agencies.

A president also has the capacity to focus federal efforts on the broader challenges to the national approach to HIV, beyond scaling up existing programming and strengthening research efforts. Addressing AIDS means helping to refocus prevention and treatment on the communities that are disproportionately affected, specifically African Americans. Though African Americans make up less than 15 percent of the United States population, in 2005 they accounted for 49 percent of new infections. A president can also push the health-care agenda, helping people who are at risk get access to care sooner, which can mean earlier diagnoses and better treatment opportunities.

NAS is pressuring the next president, whether McCain or Obama, to deliver on these issues quickly after the election. "I think that the next president, within the first month, needs to give a speech saying, 'I'm going to follow through on my commitment to have a national AIDS strategy, and here's the process,'" Collins said. "And within a year, I think the initial work on that strategy should be done and start to be implemented."

Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, lists implementing a national HIV/AIDS strategy as the top priority in his plan to combat the virus. His vision of the strategy aligns closely with the one already proposed.

In a 2006 speech on World AIDS Day, Obama got to the heart of the issue, announcing, "Neither philanthropist nor scientist, neither government nor church, can solve this problem on their own -- AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort."

He seems to have a firmer commitment to addressing the issue domestically than his Republican counterpart. McCain has not committed to pushing for a domestic AIDS strategy. He's expressed a commitment to maintaining the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief but has said little about a national HIV/AIDS plan. On World AIDS Day in 2007, he did close a speech by noting, "Our commitment [to AIDS assistance] must be sustained, and our nation must always be faithful to those at home and abroad as they cope with the ravages of HIV/AIDS." But a more detailed, comprehensive AIDS plan would go a long way toward demonstrating his commitment to addressing the issue.

"The time is right for people to realize that we've done great things as a country in addressing HIV internationally," Collins said. "And we need to also, without losing that focus, look back at the home front and realize that we've really neglected the epidemic here at home."