UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania – Liza Conyers, Professor of Education (Rehabilitation and Human Services), was invited by Harold Phillips, Director of the White House’s Office for National AIDS Policy, to give a brief presentation to senior federal officials on Monday to celebrate her Participation in national strategic planning to end the HIV epidemic.
Conyers presented with colleague Mark Misrok, Executive Director of the National Working Positive Coalition, and shared their findings and recommendations on how to address economic needs as key drivers of negative HIV treatment and prevention outcomes. She highlighted ways in which ministries of labor and education leaders can work with ministries of health and social affairs to reduce economic inequalities related to HIV vulnerability by improving access to vocational training and job placement.
“The Biden government has a good understanding of the role that important social determinants of health such as economic, racial and health disparities play in susceptibility to HIV,” said Conyers.
The Home Affairs Council is now demanding that the National HIV / AIDS Strategy be updated by December 1, 2021 to include contributions from additional federal ministries, including ministries of labor and education, that Conyers said were not involved in past efforts to end the HIV epidemic.
Conyers is a faculty member in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education, and her research has focused on the impact of occupational rehabilitation and staff development services on individual and public health outcomes, social determinants of health, psychosocial and cultural aspects of disability, and program assessment of integrated occupational health and HIV prevention measures.
Conyers is a member of the National HIV Planning Group and chairs an ad hoc committee on HIV and employment. She was appointed to the State Board of Vocational Rehabilitation by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in 2018 and is currently co-principal investigator for the Pennsylvania Expanded HIV Testing Initiative and for the HIV and Hepatitis component of the State Opioid Response Grant.
One of the main topics Conyers raised at the meeting is the need for cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration between state and community-based health, development, education, housing, legal and other service systems.
“There aren’t enough vocational training services, period,” Conyers said. “Although Supplemental Security Income was set up to ensure that elderly or disabled people did not have to live on incomes below the poverty line, the fact that this program has basically not changed in nearly 50 years has effectively retained those who do currently receive benefits for a life in poverty. “
In addition to the need to update the safety income level, HIV service providers and case managers need more training to help people assess, test, and potentially find work, especially since advances in HIV treatments have improved health outcomes and many have not are entitled to a disability pension.
Conyers and Misrok recently co-hosted a National Conference on HIV and Employment. An important recommendation that emerged from this convocation is the need to expand access to community recruitment services for people living with or more susceptible to HIV, according to Conyers. One way that could be achieved is to establish flexible private and government funding initiatives to support the implementation and maintenance of HIV-focused employment programs in facilities where people are receiving HIV treatment.
A well-rounded strategy to tackle the HIV epidemic requires a strong focus on the social determinants of health, according to Conyers. Lack of access to food, decent incomes and other services can adversely affect the health and well-being of people with or at risk of HIV.
“Getting everyone on board is really important to address the social determinants that are fueling HIV, and educational interventions are key in ending the HIV epidemic,” said Conyers. “It’s great to see so much interest in the federal government.”