AIDS activists are hailing President Barack Obama's decision to appoint Jeffrey Crowley as Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).

“Jeff has a near perfect combination of compassion and expertise, covering disability policy, HIV/AIDS policy, Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance,” Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action, said in a statement Thursday.

Crowley, an openly gay man, brings 15 years of direct and research experience in health care issues to his appointment. He previously worked for the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) and most recently as Senior Research Scholar at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University.

Earnest Hopkins, of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, called the choice “really good news.”

“He's a good friend, he's smart, he goes very deep, as far as his knowledge base,” Hopkins told New England gay weekly Bay Windows. “He's been one of the external consultants to all national AIDS folks who do AIDS work day to day. He's really an expert. We can be pretty assured the administration is going to support something that is supporting the needs of people with HIV.”

Numbers of cases of new HIV infections continue to rise worldwide. A UNAIDS 2008 report concluded that the pandemic had stabilized, but since then several AIDS experts have disagreed with that assessment.

And last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said estimates for HIV infections had been underreported by as much as 40%. The CDC now estimates that 1.1 million Americans are infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

The Campaign to End AIDS, a coalition of civil rights and religious organizations, has urged the president to create a comprehensive strategy to end AIDS.

“We've got to push the envelope, we've got to make sure that people with HIV/AIDS are heard,” Housing Works VP of National Advocacy and Organizing Christine Campbell told On Top Magazine before the election. “We believe we can end this thing. We believe what we are missing is the political will to make it happen.”

In making the appointment, Obama said developing a national AIDS strategy would be a top priority of the office Crowley now heads.

Crowley's post as U.S. AIDS chief will also be linked to efforts to help all Americans facing a disability.

“Jeffrey Crowley brings the experience and expertise that will help our nation address the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis and help my administration develop policies that will serve Americans with disabilities,” Obama said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the State Department has yet to announce who will replace AIDS Relief Chief Dr. Mark Dybul, the former head of President Bush's controversial Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR has been hailed by conservatives as Bush's greatest accomplishment, but lacking in the eyes of AIDS activists, who said its focus on abstinence only programs made it ineffective. The program doled out billions to 15 focus countries decimated by the AIDS pandemic, twelve of which are in Africa. Dybul was initially asked to stay on for a short while but was shown the door the day after the president's inauguration.