2023 – 2024 Chair’s Challenge: Access, Engage, & Activate:
Centering and Re-centering Key Populations
Dave Kern, NASTAD Board Chair
July 12, 2023
I am the Deputy Commissioner for the Syndemic Infectious Disease Bureau at the Chicago Department of Public Health. My team and I provide support to our city’s HIV, STI, mpox, viral hepatitis, and TB responses. I got my start in HIV work in Chicago in the late 1990s and was hired by the Chicago Department of Public Health for the first time in 2000.
In 2004, I attended my first in-person NASTAD meeting, and I was so impressed with the quality of the content and the connections that I made – it was eye-opening to know that I wasn’t alone in the work that I was doing. In 2006, I moved from Chicago to join NASTAD as director of prevention and lead the organization’s work in HIV and viral hepatitis prevention.
In 2010, I moved to Washington State to lead the state’s infectious disease prevention programming before finally moving back to Chicago in 2016 to take on my current role. Together, these experiences have given me an important perspective on the work from a local, state, and national level, and while I’ve moved around quite a lot in my career, NASTAD has always been a consistent presence in my professional life. Now, as Board Chair, I feel like I have come full circle.
Over the past few years, NASTAD’s Board Chairs have issued challenges to the membership. However, I honestly struggle to ask people who work at health departments to do more right now. I want to take a moment to recognize that many of us in the public health field are tired, deflated, and at times overwhelmed. Despite this, I know that NASTAD’s membership still feels inspired to do more and to do better for the communities that we serve because that’s who we are as leaders – people who always want to do better despite the constraints we’re experiencing. So, the first part of my Chair’s Challenge is to NASTAD – we need the organization to continue centering its membership and help us take care of ourselves and one another better.
So now let’s talk about the people and where we must do better to end the epidemics and to honor our moral obligation as public health servants to ensure members of our communities are appropriately protected and cared for. For my Chair’s Challenge, I am asking us to center or re-center:
- Persons of transgender experience
- Persons who use drugs
- Persons aging with HIV
- Gay, bisexual, and other same-gender loving men, Black and Latino men in particular
Within these populations, BIPOC individuals are disproportionately impacted, so we must prioritize efforts to increase access and services for these communities, in particular. I am also calling for whole-person approaches for engaging these populations with humility and long-term commitments, for focusing beyond HIV and hepatitis, and for being okay sitting in places of discomfort. I want to remind us that syndemic approaches marry very well with the centering and re-centering of key populations given that syndemic approaches strive to address the impact caused by infectious disease, drug use, mental health, and the social determinants of health that put these populations at increased vulnerability for poor health outcomes.