Blacks & HIV: Dr. Jonca Bull, FDA Assistant Commissioner for Minority Health, Discusses HIV/AIDS & Importance Of Clinical Trials

More than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 of those are unaware of their infection, according to statistics from African Americans account for 45 percent of HIV diagnoses, yet only 12 percent of the total U.S. population. Addressing critical racial and ethnic health disparities – particularly in HIV/AIDS outreach – is a primary part of Dr. Jonca Bull’s role as the FDA’s assistant commissioner for minority health.

Dr. Bull, who has been with the FDA since 2012, provides strategic leadership, coordination, and oversight for FDA’s minority initiatives and has been instrumental in coordinating FDA’s response to the FDA Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 addressing demographic inclusion in clinical trials and outreach to underserved communities. interviewed Dr. Bull to learn more about the FDA’s role in HIV/AIDS and the work being done to close the gap on health disparities. What is the role of the FDA Office of Minority Health in promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention?

Dr. Bull: We know that HIV/AIDS continues to be a growing problem in the Black community. Our role here at the FDA’s Office of Minority Health (OMH) is to promote and protect the health of diverse populations through research, communication, and outreach, with a particular focus on health disparities and health equity. We focus our efforts on improving the FDA’s communications with minorities and work closely with organizations like to strengthen our messages and extend our reach. We make sure to meet people at their place of need and to develop communications that are timely, relevant, and culturally competent. We engage our audiences though social media (e.g. Twitter chats) and our website; develop health education resources to educate about the various diseases and health topics; serve as spokespersons for minority health at conferences and meetings; and we fund research on health issues that disproportionately affect blacks, like HIV/AIDS. For example, in 2012 we funded a project to establish an in-vitro vaginal epithelial cell infection model to examine the role of abnormal vaginal bacteria on increased risk for HIV-1 acquisition. How does FDA policy affect those who are living with HIV or AIDS?

Dr. Bull: The FDA’s mission includes ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of drugs, biological products, and medical devices. For the HIV community, this means that we are responsible for making sure that the tests used to diagnose HIV are accurate and reliable, barrier methods (e.g. condoms) are monitored for quality assurance, treatment regimens are safe and efficacious, and the blood supply is safe for the nation. Additionally, the FDA works with industry and other government partners to develop preventive and therapeutic vaccines for HIV, develop practical microbicides to prevent spread of HIV, and ensure proper device sterilization in medical settings to prevent the spread of HIV.