The annual U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) continued yesterday, Monday, September 9, 2013, in New Orleans with a rich series of sessions on topics addressing many aspects of the HIV care continuum.
The Engagement Challenge: Step-Up and Lead
President Obama’s July 2013 Executive Order creating the HIV Care Continuum Initiative called upon federal agencies and other HIV community stakeholders to sharpen their focus on better addressing the drop-offs along the continuum of HIV care as they continue to work to achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Among Monday’s conference highlights was a plenary session that focused on the challenge of improving engagement in HIV care in order to better address those drop-offs. The lively session was led by Mr. Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute , and featured four young leaders who shared how they are stepping up to respond to the President’s call, each inviting the conference participants to join them.
Framing the session, Mr. Wilson observed, “We now have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic— better diagnostic tools, better surveillance tools, better prevention tools, and now with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, better healthcare financing tools.” The next step, he asserted, is to enlist still more voices to develop, discuss, and deploy new ways to engage—individually, organizationally, at the community level, and as a society—in the national effort to make the dream of the end of HIV a reality. Mr. Wilson then introduced the conference participants to four such fresh voices:
Dr. Leo Moore, an alum of Morehouse School of Medicine who is completing his residency at Yale New Haven Hospital, shared some lessons he learned through the difficult experience of having a close friend receive a positive HIV diagnosis. Among those was that we should make no assumptions about what our friends, family, and others know about HIV and that we need to have explicit conversations with them. Those conversations, he noted, are not necessarily easy, “but we must go there.” Dr. Moore also observed that we need to help expand awareness of the fact that we now have more effective treatment options, with fewer pills, fewer doses, and fewer side effects. But, he added, all of the treatment advances in the world mean nothing if we can’t get people into care and keep them there. He acknowledged that HIV stigma is one of the barriers that we must break through in order to support more people in entering care, initiating treatment, and remaining in care. Dr. Moore concluded by observing that improving engagement in care requires action by every one of us; no matter where we are, whatever we do, every day we have the opportunity to help engage people in the HIV care continuum—in prevention, testing, care and treatment.
Ms. Stephanie Brown, a young woman who was diagnosed with HIV when she was 19, spoke about how being open about her HIV status has been a powerful education tool. It has helped, for example, challenge others’ assumptions about who people with HIV are, as well as illustrate how people living with HIV can lead long, healthy, productive lives if they remain on treatment. Currently, Ms. Brown is serving as an ambassador for Empowered , the new Greater Than AIDS campaign led by Grammy Award-winning artist and HIV advocate Alicia Keys to educate women about HIV/AIDS. Ms. Brown echoed Dr. Moore’s observation about the importance of breaking down HIV-related stigma in order to increase the proportion of people living with HIV who are engaged in care. She emphasized, “Our job is to build a world where it is safe to get tested, get into care, and live life openly and honestly.”
Mr. Chris Richey and Mr. Scott McPherson introduced The Stigma Project , a grassroots organization they founded which aims to lower the HIV infection rate and neutralize the stigma often associated with HIV/AIDS through social media and advertising. Their latest initiative, “ENGAGE ,” is a social media campaign to build awareness about the need to be fully engaged along the HIV care continuum. Playing off the current conversation about same sex marriage, the campaign incorporates creative images and messages into a series of graphics that can be shared through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Adding still more youth and vitality to the session, the men of the Grambling State University drum line and steppers performed and even tried to teach the participants a few moves to help us all learn to step up.
Elsewhere at the Conference
Also at the conference on Monday, sessions explored a variety of important topics including:
- Implications for expanded coverage of HIV testing and hepatitis C testing as a result of recent recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
- Practical uses of economic modeling to support resource allocations that advance High Impact Prevention. The cross-HHS HIV Resource Allocation Modeling Project (HIV RAMP) was among the examples featured, along with similar efforts in New York City and Iowa.
- How the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program will support and enroll people living with HIV in new health care coverage that will soon be available under the Affordable Care Act. HRSA’s Dr. Laura Cheever discussed how resources from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and other HRSA programs are complementing other outreach efforts to help consumers understand the importance of enrolling in new health coverage options that will become available October 1 through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Finally, the AIDS.gov team continued to conduct usability testing on our new products and features, including apps, in one-on-one sessions with conference participants. These sessions provide us with valuable feedback and insight from end-users of our various social media platforms, as well as our web site, blog, and other web tools.
The team was also nearby in the Social Media Lounge chatting with individuals about social media strategy, metrics, and various other questions. The Lounge will continue to be open today and tomorrow morning – stay tuned for a more in-depth blog post from the new media team.