After being diagnosed with HIV in 1987, Daniel C. Montoya applied the business skills he acquired on Wall Street to improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. As the director of external affairs at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Montoya tells POZ about his work advising clients on HIV prevention programs and services.

How did you become an HIV/AIDS advocate?  
It was sort of organic. In the mid-’80s I was getting my bachelor’s degree in finance, and in 1987 I tested positive for HIV. At the time, I was interviewing on Wall Street for post-graduation employment and actually received an offer. After giving it some thought, especially given my HIV status, I decided to do something that had a little more meaning than just making money.  

Personally, I got involved in politics and started volunteering at a local level with different HIV/AIDS organizations, such as AIDS Services of Austin, HIV Wellness Center, Project Transitions AIDS Hospice and Informe-Sida. Professionally, I took a position working for the State of Texas on environmental issues. Through my work on environmental issues, I gained a greater understanding of the health-related impacts.  

I ended up going to graduate school and continued getting more involved in the public sector, including receiving a political appointment from President Clinton to serve in his administration as executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. At the end of the administration, I had two amazing opportunities, first to work with AIDS Project Los Angeles as the director of government affairs and later an opportunity to work with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in restructuring the HIV/AIDS clinical research networks to increase coordination, harmonization and efficiencies.

In 2007, I received an opportunity to work in the private sector with Hill & Knowlton and assisted with the launch of an HIV drug by Pfizer called Selzentry, which was the first in a new class of HIV drugs. To understand the impact of health care and how to have positive health care outcomes, I felt that I gained tremendous insight and understanding with my experience working in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  

What is your role now at the American Institutes for Research?  

AIR’s mission is to provide conduct and apply behavioral and social science research to improve people’s lives and well-being—with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged—and we do so working as a federal contractor. While I work on a number of different projects, I am the project director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Act Against AIDS campaign. AIR was contracted [by the CDC] to implement the Act Against AIDS campaign, an HIV prevention education campaign.  

Can you tell us more about your work with Act Against AIDS?  

Act Against AIDS, the first national, U.S. domestic HIV/AIDS prevention education program in more than 20 years, is a five-year, multifaceted communication campaign designed to contribute to the CDC’s goal of reducing HIV incidence in the United States. The campaign is being planned and released in phases. Each phase, with its own unique objectives and select target audiences, will use mass media and direct-to-consumer communication channels to deliver important HIV prevention messages in a manner designed to be compelling, credible and relevant. Some campaign phases will address basic education and awareness needs, while others will address the specific risk-reduction needs of those at greatest risk for HIV infection. Many of these campaigns may run concurrently.  

The Act Against AIDS campaign will serve to refocus national attention on the HIV crisis in the United States. Although it is only one component of CDC’s comprehensive HIV prevention efforts, it will serve as a key element by helping to overcome complacency, ensuring that all Americans have access to the basic facts about HIV, and acting as the umbrella for all CDC HIV prevention education efforts to ensure maximum health impact/outcomes.  

Will Act Against AIDS be targeted to the Latino community?  

Yes. The campaign phases will target communications to communities at risk and focus on reaching specific populations at greatest risk, starting first with African Americans who bear the greatest burden of HIV of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. Over the course of the multiyear campaign, additional phases will be launched for other populations at increased risk including Latinos, all men who have sex with men (MSMs), and women.  

What are the challenges in creating HIV prevention campaigns?  

As we all know, the country is not monolithic. The challenge in developing HIV prevention campaigns is balancing effectiveness with efficiency—how to reach the most impacted populations in the most effective and efficient way. It’s especially challenging given the complexity of the epidemic and the need to develop targeted messages that have meaningful impact in various populations, geographies, etc.  

For example, in targeting Latinos, effective HIV prevention messages need to take into account many different factors, including ethnicity, geography, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc., and then we need to ensure that these messages are developed in a culturally and appropriate manner in order to fully resonate among the different populations. There are many challenges to develop effective HIV prevention messages, but without further investments to develop these messages, our health care system may be challenged to meet the demands of treatment.