June 9, 2021
(HOUSTON, TX) - Alum Januari Fox (MSW '10) currently serves as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for Prism Health North Texas an organization aimed at providing education, research, prevention, and personalized HIV care.
In this role, Januari advocates for legislation on the state and federal level that affects those within the LGBTQ community and those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
We asked Januari to give us more insight into the recent Texas HIV/AIDS budget shortfall and what she hopes a recent $36 million win means in the long term for the medication program.
Name: Januari Fox
Graduation from the GCSW: MSW '10
There has been a lot of talk about the potential budget shortfall for the Texas HIV Medication Program. What are some of the reasons you believe this to be the case?
Coronavirus played a significant role. People living with HIV were losing their jobs, and therefore their benefits. While not a safety net program, the Texas HIV Medication Program (THMP) was an available resource to ensure people could still receive their medications. There was also a considerable amount of mismanagement with the state HIV/STD department. One example is the reconciliation resulting from a 10-year-old medication ordering system glitch that left a shortfall of $35 million.
What are some of the potential repercussions that could result from a budget reduction for this program?
First, I'm thrilled to say that the program was awarded $36.6 million in state budget funds through strong community advocacy and watchfulness. However, this is far less than the $104 million needed to keep the program solvent over the next two years. The state HIV/STD department is taking a considerable risk at the expense of people living with HIV. They are counting on federal supplemental funding and Coronavirus Relief funding, which will be determined later. If these funds aren't received, by DSHS's calculations, up to 5,800 people living with HIV would be relegated to a waitlist and unable to receive their medications.
There is still a lot of stigma around sex, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially in the south. What do you believe are some of the factors contributing to the higher HIV transmission rates compared to other parts of the country?
As social workers, we view problems through a social, racial, economic, and political justice lens. Unfortunately, as we just saw in the most recent Texas legislative session, Black and Brown communities are not a priority, yet they are the most significantly impacted by HIV. Racism, homophobia, a lack of accurate and complete sex education, strong religious influences, and a lack of access to basic needs like housing, food, transportation, and child care all contribute to higher rates of HIV in the south.
Who inspired you to continue your education in social work?
Shubhra Endley, my best friend, greatly inspired me. As I watched her social work journey unfold, I knew social work was something I wanted to be a part of personally. So, when I was considering graduate programs, I looked at law, public health or administration, and business schools and social work, hands down, aligned best with my values and life goals. It has to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
You have had a full-circle experience with the GCSW. You are an alum and served as the GCSW Director of Development. What do you believe makes the GCSW unique?
What makes the GCSW unique is its focus and dedication to social justice issues. Even if you are a clinical student, you will learn to consider the impacts that race, economics, and other factors have on the individual. They aren't just macro considerations. The other thing that I love about the GCSW is that it feels like a family. I've kept up with tons of my classmates, professors, and the staff that make the GCSW function. The love and pride are palpable and genuine.
Your current role is serving as Director of Policy and Advocacy at Prism Health North Texas. Why is it essential for social workers to advocate for health care equity within the realm of policy?
I can't stress enough how important it is to have social workers in these roles. We have the training to look for more long-term solutions, not just a quick policy win (which is also lovely!). We consider not just the financial impact but also take into consideration the effect on individuals and communities as well. There's a degree of empathy that social workers have that is often missing from other professions.