Sunday, July 22, 2012 was a good day for Washington DC. After a cool and rainy Saturday the sun struggled to come out and temperatures warmed but weren’t their usual oppressive summer swelter. At the DC Convention Center US Representative Barbara Lee addressed the first International AIDS Conference to be held in the United States in 22 years. It was located here, Rep. Lee reminded the 20,000 plus delegates, due to a bi-partisan lifting of the travel ban on people with HIV into the United States, signed by former President George H.W. Bush and put into effect by current President Barack Obama.
The conference also marked just over two years since the unveiling of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the country’s first. And there was progress to report on the three main goals and very important but less known fourth goal of the Strategy, or the NHAS as it is known. “Health care is prevention and prevention is health care,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the CDC, at a pre-conference satellite session on the NHAS. This symmetrical syllogism reflects how bio-medical research is leading the way in the fight to end the epidemic. Specifically, Dr. Mermin was referring to a study that showed sero-discordant (one HIV positive, one HIV negative) heterosexual couples were 96% less likely to transmit the virus among themselves if the HIV positive partner was taking HIV medication, by effectively suppressing the virus within his or her body.
This and other new tools to prevent spread of HIV has informed the three-pronged strategy to reduce new infections, effectively link people living with the virus to care and maintain them in quality care, and reduce disparities across populations (now largely gay and bisexual men and African-Americans) who are affected by and infected with HIV.
John Snow, Inc. has been evaluating the 12 Cities Project, a part of the NHAS intended to improve coordination, collaboration and integration among federal entities working on HIV/AIDS. Dr. Andrew Forsyth, of the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, acknowledged the work JSI as done that shows both frustration with the slow process of coordination among federal agencies but also progress in collaborative planning both within federal agencies such as CDC, HRSA, and SAMHSA, as well as widespread efforts to link HIV care and prevention in the 12 US Cities with the greatest burden of HIV/AIDS.
Does more need to be done? Yes, we all need to ask how we can do our part to reduce the stigma around HIV that creates barriers to people knowing their status, getting and staying in care and taking the medications that can keep them healthy and prevent further HIV transmission. But was it a good day for 25,000 delegates to the In Washington DC in marking progress in the fight against AIDS? Absolutely. Oh and the very good young Washington Nationals baseball team broke a three-game losing streak by defeating the Atlanta Braves 9-2. A good day indeed.