Advocates gather virtually for 2nd annual Fall AIDSWatch

The two-day event started Monday with a keynote from Harold Phillips, director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy.

Sept. 27, 2021

Contact: Helen Parshall, hparshall@aidsunited.org
(202) 876-2823

WASHINGTON — The first day of Fall AIDSWatch 2021 was held virtually Monday.

AIDSWatch is the largest constituent-based HIV advocacy event on the federal level. First started in 1993, AIDSWatch became a virtual event in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fall edition of AIDSWatch began in 2020, making this the fourth time the event has been hosted virtually.

Harold Phillips, director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy, gave the keynote presentation and welcome, discussing new epidemic end-date modeling and an update on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy amid the impacts of COVID-19.

“This comes at a time when we are commemorating the 40th anniversary of our fight when it comes to HIV — fight for life, fight for access, fight for treatment, fight for understanding, fight against stigma and discrimination,” Phillips said. “We recognize the fact that we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and that it is because of the work, the research done on HIV that we are at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic where we have rapid access to a vaccine. We also recognize that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many HIV services were halted. Many staff in public health departments were sent to work in communities to address COVID-19. So, we use this as an opportunity to reengage our various sectors to join us and re-energize and recommit ourselves to our work when it comes to HIV.”

Fall AIDSWatch 2021 is a two-day event. The opening plenary will be followed with three panel workshops to allow participants to dive more deeply into four key policy areas around ending the HIV epidemic and supporting those of us living with and vulnerable to HIV: quality of life, health care access expansion, voting, civil rights and justice.

AIDSWatch is planned by AIDS United in partnership with the US PLHIV Caucus and the Treatment Access Expansion Project.

Jesse Milan, president and CEO, AIDS United, said, “When we gathered for AIDSWatch back in the spring of this year, many of us were filled with hope. We were just 100 days into a new presidential administration and a new Congress, and the first new doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were being rolled out to the public. We were all preparing to roll up our sleeves to get vaccinated and get back to our workplaces and back to our normal lives. But our HIV community knows that hope is always tempered by politics and reality. … We’re facing all these head on as our community always does because we never let anything stand in our way of ending the HIV epidemic. If the pandemic has created unforeseen obstacles for us that may have delayed us from ending the epidemic by 2025, then our retooling, our tenacity and our resilience are already proving that together we can and we must end this epidemic by the end of this decade. This is why AIDSWatch is so important this year. It gives us the chance to join in unity to assess our problems and our foes, to learn about our challenges and our strategies, and to reignite our advocacy and prepare each of us to put our words into action.”

Waheedah Shabazz-El, steering committee member of the US PLHIV Caucus, said, “AIDSWatch is an occasion that gives people living with HIV an opportunity to bring our voices and our experiences to educate our policymakers and to advocate for quality of life issues for our community members. AIDSWatch gives us a voice. AIDSWatch also gives us a seat at the table, at the decision-making tables. And I’ve been known to say on a number of occasions that if we’re not at the table, then we are on the menu. Let me tell you what’s on the menu this year: Health care access expansion is on the menu. And people living with HIV need to be at the table to insist that policymakers expand Medicaid eligibility, to insist that Medicare services are tailored to recognize the needs and care for treatment of those aging with HIV and long-term survivors. Civil rights and justice is on the menu, and people living with HIV have to insist that policymakers adopt and implement robust nondiscrimination protections for people who are transgender, nonbinary and gender diverse and pass the Equality Act in the U.S. Senate. We also have to insist on the elimination of laws that criminalize people based on their serostatus and pass the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act.”

Robert Greenwald, director of the Treatment Access Expansion Project/Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, said, “Generally we organize AIDSWatch once a year in the Spring. This year, we need a Fall AIDSWatch. Despite challenges there are big policy windows available to us that make our advocacy and this moment in time more important than ever. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains a constant concern. Most severely impacted are communities of color, shining a light on our country’s long history of structural and institutional racism. … The Biden administration must enact new regulations that secure human rights protections for all people, BIPOC people, immigrants, people who are LGBTQ and gender driverse, sex workers and all others who have historically and disproportionately experienced discrimination. Now is the time to push the Biden administration to erase Trump-era rules and move us forward with stronger, more effective laws and policies. … This is the moment to push Congress to enact legislation that will address the needs of all people living with and vulnerable to HIV.”

ABOUT AIDSWATCH: AIDSWatch is organized by AIDS United, the Treatment Access Expansion Project, and the US PLHIV Caucus. It is the largest federal HIV advocacy event of its kind. Participants are trained in effective advocacy skills and are coached on how best to share this information with policymakers and their community. After training, participants meet with members of Congress to share their personal stories about the impact of current policies on their community, highlight the importance of HIV as an issue for their constituents and present a face for the issue. Learn more at www.aidsunited.org/aidswatch.

ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, AIDS UNITED: AIDS United’s mission is to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. through strategic grant-making, capacity building and policy. AIDS United works to ensure access to lifesaving HIV care and prevention services and to advance sound HIV-related policy for populations and communities most impacted by the U.S. epidemic. To date, our strategic grant-making initiatives have directly funded more than $104 million to local communities and have leveraged more than $117 million in additional investments for programs that include but are not limited to HIV prevention, access to care, capacity building, harm reduction and advocacy. Learn more at www.aidsunited.org.

ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, THE TREATMENT ACCESS EXPANSION PROJECT: TAEP was founded in 1996 with the mission of working to expand access to health care to low-income individuals living with HIV. Since that time, TAEP’s work has expanded to encompass the health care access needs of all low-income individuals living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. In collaboration with national, state, and local partners, TAEP seeks to secure, preserve and promote access to a broad range of care, treatment and essential support services that are necessary to maintain health. Learn more at www.taepusa.org.

ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, THE US PLHIV CAUCUS: The caucus is a group of networks, organizations and advocates dedicated to the Denver Principles and the meaningful involvement of people with HIV/AIDS.  We seek to create a diverse and accountable culture of leadership and engagement at both state and national levels. Learn more at www.hivcaucus.org.

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