This week, NMAC hosted the US Conference on HIV/AIDS, the largest conference of HIV workers in the United States. This year’s conference, which convened online due to the coronavirus pandemic, saw a variety of AIDS United staff members give workshops on topics related to activism, racial justice and HIV prevention.
The conference opened with an inspiring opening plenary session, which addressed the ways the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have changed the landscape of efforts to end the HIV epidemic. This opening plenary has a specific focus on the experiences of Black trans women. This conference made it clear that racism is a public health crisis and that HIV cannot be ended without working to end white supremacy, racism and transphobia.
AIDS United has a fantastic showing at the conference. Merilyn Francis, director of health and policy research, and Ronald Johnson, senior policy fellow, provided a workshop titled HIV, Aging and COVID-19: Practices and Policies. They discussed key issues facing people over 50 years old living with HIV, such as drug pricing, isolation due to COVID-19 and lack of access to medication.
Alicia Downes, senior program manager, joined Fenway Health staff to present on the Using Evidence-Informed Interventions to Improve Health Outcomes among People Living with HIV program. This workshop stressed methods of how to engage Black gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender-loving men to HIV care.
Joseph Stango, program manager, and Downes also presented national, evidence-informed interventions to provide care that meets the psychosocial needs of patients who have experienced trauma.
Kelly Stevens, senior program manager, participated in a workshop titled The Role of Emergency Departments in Ending the HIV Epidemic. This discussion addressed barriers to effective HIV treatment in emergency departments, the impact of COVID-19 on emergency rooms and ways emergency departments can provide better HIV treatment. Possible solutions are those based in equity, respect and patient centeredness.
Valerie L. Rochester, vice president for program strategy spoke in a powerful panel on racism and the government’s inability to provide a stimulus during the pandemic titled Ain’t No Stimulus Coming this Way. In a riveting discussion on institutional racism and ways organizations and the HIV workforce can sustain beyond the double pandemic, Rochester stated: “We have to call out the financial benefits of racism. As soon as we make it hurt for the organizations that are perpetuating racism, that’s when things will change.”
Laura Gerson, program associate, Carsen Beckwith, capacity building specialist, and Tobeyo Ibitayo, capacity building specialist, presented Burnout & Self-Care: Sustaining Young Queer Leaders in the Movement. The three stressed the importance of self-care in dealing with factors that lead to burnout.
This year’s US Conference on HIV/AIDS was an important event for HIV organizations to share strategies to deal with the many challenges to ending the HIV epidemic in the United States. We look forward to participating in the conference next September.