Written by Jeremy Holman, Senior Consultant, JSI
Can we achieve the end of AIDS? As someone who barely remembers a world without HIV, I admit I’ve been skeptical of such aspirations. But after the first day of the International AIDS Conference, I’m daring to believe that we just might be able to “turn the tide” in this 30-year battle against HIV.
Among today’s keynote speakers, a consistent theme has been the notion that we have the tools and scientific basis to end this epidemic, with recent innovations in combination HIV prevention strategies and treatment as prevention.
Leaving no doubt about the commitment of the US to the global HIV/AIDS effort, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said firmly “This is a fight we can win.” I believed her. Her most poignant moment, however, came as she recalled visiting the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1996 as First Lady, and seeking out panels of friends who had died from AIDS. I thought to myself how her experiences then – during another pivotal time in the epidemic when new treatments changed the trajectory of this disease – have uniquely prepared her for her role today.
But as an admittedly star-struck Hillary admirer (okay, confirmed fanatic), I’m surprised to admit that it was Phil Wilson (President of Black AIDS Institute) who inspired me most. Reminding us of the impact that drug therapy has had on the lives of people living with HIV, he said “treatment may be prevention, but I’m proof that treatment is treatment.” He urged those living with HIV to be open about their status, and asked Americans in the audience to continue to demand full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But in terms of JSI’s work in the US, one of Wilson’s points was particularly salient – community-based/AIDS service organizations must evolve or risk becoming irrelevant. The expanded arsenal we have to prevent and treat HIV, as well as the opportunities that health care reform will bring, means that organizations can no longer be singularly focused on implementing a particular intervention or limited set of programs. They must transform their organizational and programmatic models to ensure they can deliver a range of services along the HIV prevention and care continuum – from outreach, to testing, to linkage to care, to treatment and support.
This won’t be easy. Some organizations may not survive, and others will struggle. I am proud to work at JSI, where we can offer assistance to these organizations. We have a long history of helping community-based organizations respond to the HIV epidemic and other public health issues. For example, since 2005, our CDC-funded Capacity Building Assistance Project has helped build stronger HIV prevention organizations in the US, and continues to evolve to meet their increasingly complex needs. Today, as these organizations strive to respond to new prevention and treatment challenges, we have an important role in supporting their efforts, and — dare I say it? – helping achieve an AIDS-free generation.