Using Our Competencies and Compassion to Defeat HIV

What does it take, once an end is in sight, to realize it?  The plenary sessions of  the United States Conference on AIDS focused how far we have come in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the tremendous opportunity we now have to end HIV/AIDS.  Thursday and Friday’s plenary sessions identified the “game changers”, new technologies and biomedical tools, policy, and science that are changing the realities of HIV prevention and treatment.  Saturday’s  plenary presentation from Dr. Tony Mills, further described the technical capabilities we have to eliminate the disease:  The ability to reduce viral loads to undetectable levels and thus reduce risk of HIV transmission;  Pre- explosure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help HIV negatives, especially those with HIV+ positive partners and high risk remain negative.

Given this redefinition of HIV, workshops and Institutes made clear the need for a fundamental shift in the way we fight against HIV/AIDS.  They have challenged us to innovate quickly, not only in what we do, but how we do it and with what partners.  Our strategies need to align with the emerging science and NHAs.  And, just as importantly, the emerging policy, funding and health care environments. The conference tracts on Care and Primary Care, and Public Policy, challenged participants to think in very specific terms about what this change would look like:

  • How can HIV testing be integrated into primary care?
  • What role should Ryan White services play in a world where many more PLWHA will have access to health insurance?
  • How can we ensure HIV/AIDS is included in the discussions of how chronic disease will be addressed under health care reform?
  • What could deficit reduction mean for HIV/AIDS care and prevention and, more broadly, access to care?

In the closing plenary Dr. Dr. Julio Montaner illustrated the correlation between HAART treatment, and the decrease in community viral load in British Columbia.  He emphasized that the correlation was achieved not only through treatment, but also through effective engagement of those most at risk, and universal access to care.  His presentation challenges us to move forward with new hope and energy.  And it reminds us that we we can’t eliminate HIV without continuing to address the stigma and challenges that have nothing to do with the science of HIV.  The focus on the most vulnerable, and the competencies, compassion,  and advocacy that have brought us this far in the fight are just as important as we move toward a future in which HIV is defeated.

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