September 18, 2016

The 20th United States Conference on AIDS Comes to a Close

The 2016 USCA Conference concluded on Sunday with inspiring speeches from a diverse panel of speakers who, while expressing their hope and optimism for a future in which there will be “zero” new HIV infections, emphasized that there is still a lot of work that remains to be done to achieve that goal. In particular, their words highlighted the need for continued efforts that will ensure that EVERYONE has access to HIV prevention and treatment services. They echoed a need for efforts focused on ensuring that groups experiencing the greatest disparities, including both HIV positive and HIV negative people of color, can have access to the health care they need.

Highlights from the plenary included:

  • Dr. Sheldon Fields from Florida International University spoke of the need to tie biomedical interventions with supportive behavioral interventions to fill in the gap in HIV prevention programs. He shared findings from his research study, in which 226 HIV-negative Black men who have sex with men (BMSM) reported a high uptake of PrEP in BMSM using a client-centered care coordination approach.
  • Dr. Rich Wolitski from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services emphasized that while studies are showing zero transmission from people who have achieved viral suppression and in whom the virus is undetectable, we are still far away from where we need to be. He noted that fewer than half of individuals in the U.S. are virally suppressed, and that barriers to healthcare access are contributing to this lack of progress. The healthcare system is failing the people who need the services and “we need to demand that the systems that are there to serve us meet our needs.”
  • Michelle Durham of the BEAT AIDS Coalition Trust spoke about her organization’s PrEP Awareness Program. The program is particularly focused on reaching MSM in San Antonio, Texas, as they have the highest incidence of HIV in the area—In 2012, MSM accounted for 83% of new HIV infections. The program has implemented a number of outreach efforts and activities to increase awareness and education about PrEP among the community and providers, and refer clients to PrEP treatment services.
  • Noël Gordon, who works in HIV Prevention and Health Equity at the Human Rights Campaign, urged increased attention to treatment as prevention (TasP). He expressed that while treatment as prevention has more chance of reducing HIV transmission, this is being overshadowed by current PrEP efforts, and that failing to use PrEP’s growing popularity as an opportunity to also create awareness about treatment as prevention would be disservice, especially to those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.
  • Arianna Inurritegui-Lint from the TransLatin@ Coalition spoke about the disparities that exist in access to care for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative transgender women, particularly women of color, and emphasized the great need that still exists to implement efforts to address this. She urged support – including financial support – for transgender programs and made a plea for including representation of the transgender community in HIV efforts, including inclusion by pharmaceutical companies in their research and treatment efforts.

The plenary concluded with the passing of the torch from the Broward County 2016 USCA Host Committee to the Washington, DC 2017 USCA Host Committee. Members from both committees urged USCA attendees to make a commitment to not just be moved or inspired by what they have heard and experienced during the conference, but to take action to continue to make progress in the fight to end HIV/AIDS.