Openly gay CDC HIV chief re­flects on ‘hum­bling’ jour­ney

Fen­ton: Much work re­mains to pro­tect young gay men from HIV

GA Voice - - News - By Dyana Bagby dbagby@the­

Dr. Kevin Fen­ton has much to be proud of dur­ing his eight years at the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol & Preven­tion, es­pe­cially the strong re­la­tion­ships he and the fed­eral agency forged with lo­cal and com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Fen­ton steps down from his po­si­tion as di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for HIV/AIDS, Vi­ral Hep­ati­tis, STD & TB Preven­tion af­ter a seven-year ten­ure on Dec. 21 and re­turns to his home in the U.K. on Dec. 31.

Dr. Rima Khab­baz, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of In­fec­tious Dis­eases, will be­gin serv­ing as act­ing di­rec­tor of NCHHSTP on Jan. 2, 2013, while a na­tional search is con­ducted to se­lect a per­ma­nent di­rec­tor.

Prior to hold­ing the top HIV di­vi­sion post, Fen­ton worked as chief of CDC’s Na­tional Syphilis Elim­i­na­tion Ef­fort.

In April 2013 he be­gins his new job as Di­rec­tor for Health Im­prove­ment & Pop­u­la­tion Health for Pub­lic Health Eng­land.

“It really is bit­ter­sweet,” Fen­ton said in a phone in­ter­view with the GA Voice about his leav­ing the CDC.

Work­ing with so many ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion­als — in the CDC, lo­cal health de­part­ments, com­mu­nity groups and the pri­vate sec­tor — has been a hum­bling and pow­er­ful jour­ney, he said.

But Fen­ton looks for­ward to re­turn­ing home, re­unit­ing with his part­ner who moved back to Eng­land two years ago, and be­gin­ning a new chap­ter in his pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

Im­ple­ment­ing the first United States domestic na­tional HIV strat­egy is at the top of Fen­ton’s list of proud ac­com­plish­ments with the CDC.

Still, he re­mains wor­ried about the trend of gay men, es­pe­cially young gay men and young black gay men, con­tin­u­ing to be the pop­u­la­tion with the high­est rates of HIV in­fec­tions each year.

“It’s not only HIV but also in­creases in STDs such as gon­or­rhea and syphilis,” Fen­ton said. “That really sug­gests to me that we need to be en­sur­ing that we are both iden­ti­fy­ing young peo­ple who might be at risk be­fore they be­come sex­u­ally ac­tive in our schools and en­sur­ing that we are equip­ping them with the right in­for­ma­tion so they can make in­formed choices when they do be­come sex­u­ally ac­tive.”

And when young peo­ple do be­gin hav­ing sex, it is im­por­tant for the CDC and other agen­cies and or­ga­ni­za­tions to meet them where they work, study, play and so­cial­ize “in ways that are mean­ing­ful so they can con­tinue to pro­tect their health,” Fen­ton said.

“Part of that en­gage­ment of young peo­ple will in­volve work­ing with our com­mu­nity part­ners and fo­cus­ing on strength­en­ing ac­cess to HIV screen­ings,” he said.

A gay man and a gay leader

Hard-hit­ting cam­paigns such as the CDC’s “Test­ing Makes Us Stronger,” an ef­fort that specif­i­cally tar­gets young black gay men about know­ing their HIV sta­tus, are also in­valu­able to en­sur­ing a healthy gay male pop­u­la­tion, Fen­ton said.

“As a gay man and gay leader, I’m al­ways been com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing we can do the best we can for the com­mu­ni­ties that are hard­est hit,” he said.

Over the last seven years the CDC has ramped up HIV test­ing, cre­at­ing cul­tur­ally com­pe­tent re­sources and uti­liz­ing so­cial mar­ket­ing cam­paigns such as “Test­ing Makes Us Stronger” to reach pop­u­la­tions most at risk.

“The Test­ing Makes Us Stronger” cam­paign is the first time the CDC really showed strong im­ages of black gay men and also showed that car­ing about one’s health is valu­able.

Schools — yes, pub­lic schools — need to put aside ho­mo­pho­bia when teach­ing sex ed and make sure LGBT stu­dents are also con­sid-

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Kevin Fen­ton steps down this month af­ter seven years as the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for HIV/ AIDS, Vi­ral Hep­ati­tis, STD & TB Preven­tion. (Photo courtesy CDC)

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