As the former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy where I helped launch the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy to combat the domestic HIV epidemic, I’m often invited to give talks to a variety of groups.  I primarily address issues related to the domestic landscape of HIV and I do that with the backdrop of having lived through the rough times of the early AIDS epidemic — a horrible past that has certainly given me a sense of perspective.

Since the 2016 election, we are once again confronted with a turbulent political environment where access to health care and efforts to address health equity are in flux.  HIV programs are on the chopping block, and many are questioning whether their elected officials care about them.  Rough times may be back.  But this time, we’re better equipped than we were in the early years of the epidemic and that is now reflected in my talks.

I am a policy wonk at heart and can talk endlessly about Medicaid policy and how to make the health system work for low-income people, but now I find myself giving talks that might be more akin to what you’d hear on the inspirational talk circuit.  That’s not by accident – I am naturally a ‘glass half full’ person.  But, there is also much to be positive about.

I recently gave a short talk at a luncheon plenary sponsored by NMAC and Gilead Sciences at the United States Conference on AIDS, the largest annual conference for frontline community-based HIV services providers, which I’d like to encourage you to watch.  I think it’s the right message for right now.  It reminds us to reflect on how far we have come and aims to bolster us in our collective efforts to support our communities.

World AIDS Day is on Friday, December 1.  Indeed, it feels a bit different this year and it should.  While many of us are acutely experiencing the pain and are fearful of the difficult political environment that confronts us, there is huge positive progress to be celebrated.  Recognizing the storms we have weathered in the past, let’s reimagine our path to ending the HIV epidemic.  Let that be a reason for feeling different this year on World AIDS Day.

Jeffrey S. Crowley is a Distinguished Scholar and Program Director of Infectious Disease Initiatives at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.  From 2009 to 2011, he served as Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.  Crowley is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer having served in the Kingdom of Swaziland from 1989 to 1991.