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Countdown to the International AIDS Conference, Part 1

By Phill Wilson

July 3, 2012

Phill Wilson

The first in a three-part series on why the International AIDS Conference matters to Black people. Part 1 will discuss what the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) is. Part 2 will focus on some of the challenges facing Black communities. On the eve of the conference we'll look at what Black people need to do to end the AIDS epidemic in Black America and how the International AIDS Conference will help us do that.

On July 22nd 25,000 people and 3,000 journalists from around the world will converge upon Washington, D.C., to attend the 19th International AIDS Conference. For six days researchers, scientists, doctors and other healthcare providers, policymakers, AIDS advocates and activists, people living with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers will collaborate and discuss ways to end the global AIDS pandemic. This will be the first time in more than 20 years that what is likely to be the world's largest health conference will have been held in the United States. Until President Obama lifted it in 2010, a travel ban prohibited people living with HIV/AIDS to immigrate, visit or even pass through the United States.

As these experts ask what America is doing to end the epidemic around the world, they'll also ask what we're doing to address our epidemic at home. No group in the in the United States is more impacted by HIV than Black people. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, most Black Americans know someone living with HIV/AIDS. For many of us that person is a close family member. If you're Black there's a high probability that someone you care about deeply is living with HIV/AIDS, and if you haven't been tested lately that person might be you.

Many Americans mistakenly believe that the AIDS epidemic is over or to the extent that it does exist, it is only in Southern Africa, Haiti or other parts of the developing world. In actuality, new HIV infections in the United States have remained unacceptably stable at around 58,000 per year for over a decade. The AIDS epidemic in worse than anywhere else in the developed world and in some communities as bad as or worse than you would find in many developing world countries. In some neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., for example, 12 percent of Black women already have HIV. This compares to HIV prevalence rates of 2.2% and 10.9% in Port au Prince and Johannesburg, respectively.

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The good news is that the International AIDS conference will shine a much-needed spotlight on America's Black epidemic. Those of us working on the conference have attempted to make sure the conference speaks to Black people from the opening ceremonies to the closing session.

Black folks are involved at every level of the conference planning, design and execution. In fact, in some respects, this conference represents the best application of FUBU I’ve ever seen.

With this backdrop it's important that as many Black Americans as possible attend the conference. Fortunately, it is easier to travel to Washington D.C. than to an international location. The opening ceremonies start on Sunday, July 22nd, and during the week hundreds of speeches, presentations and workshops on basic science, clinical science, treatment, HIV prevention, health economics, policy and advocacy will take place.

On four different days a Black American will deliver the major plenary address. At the opening ceremony, a Black minister from Chicago, Rev. Charles Straight, will deliver the opening invocation, the honorable Barbara Lee from Oakland will speak and President Obama is expected to address the conference. On Monday, I will be talking about ending America's AIDS epidemic. On Tuesday Linda Scruggs, a Black woman living with HIV, will deliver the plenary address on women and AIDS. On Thursday another Black woman living with HIV, Debbie McMillan, will speak about HIV and drug users.

In addition to the formal conference activities, a Global Village will offer free workshops, educational sessions, film festivals and performances from around the world that are open to the public.

The Kaiser Family Foundation will webcast a of the plenaries and many of the conference sessions (www.aids2012.org). The Black AIDS Institute will blog and tweet from the conference. You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@blackaids). Twenty-five black journalists will report from a Black point of view on the Institute's website (www.blackaids.org), and a number of National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) papers are sending reporters to write about the conference.

Finally, a series of post-conference updates will take place in 15 cities around the country from August to October.

The International AIDS Conference is a big deal for Black America. Without a doubt the conference is for us, much of what will be said will be about us, and in many ways it is by us. It offers an opportunity to obtain information that might save the lives of members of our community. We owe that to each other, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations.

In this issue of the Black AIDS Weekly, as the HIV epidemic continues to spread among African Americans, Black males account for the greatest number of new infections. Black gay, bisexual and/or same-gender-loving men are disproportionately impacted, but heterosexual Black men are being impacted as well. What do Black men need to know about how to prevent, or if they're already infected, treat HIV? Our doctor in the house, HIV specialist Dr. Teresa Mack, tells us.

The Road to AIDS 2012 traveled to Atlanta on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, providing an opportunity for town hall meeting participants to learn more about the science of HIV prevention. The conversation ranged from the trials on HIV vaccines themselves, to the need for more Black people to participate in clinical trials, to the new scientific breakthroughs around treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Journalist Tamara Holmes reports.

As the International AIDS Conference draws near, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., reminds us of how far we have come in our understanding of how to prevent and treat HIV and the "robust armamentarium" of tools we now have in place to help us slowly turn the tide and bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic to an end.

An increasing body of research connects violence and trauma with HIV. Here, we share the results of a study in which intimate partner violence is linked to poor clinical outcomes. We also learn about the Many Shades of Gay public-health campaign taking place in San Francisco, and more.

Yours in the struggle,
Phill




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