During the first week of November, ViiV Healthcare welcomed invited individuals from across The United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada to Atlanta, Georgia for the 15th Annual Community Summit. I became familiar with the summit during the U.S. Conference on AIDS and was immediately interested. I arrived to Atlanta on November 7 and made it to the W Midtown. I made it to the posh hotel were the next few days came and gone. I reunited with friends and colleagues that I have known as well as new ones I met at USCA 2013 in New Orleans. The Community Summit also gave me and others in attendance the ability to expand my network, make new contacts, and form new friendships.
The purpose of this year’s Summit is to discuss new challenges and solutions to the HIV epidemic. I experienced some of the greatest discussions this year. Topics ranged from surrounding the changing healthcare environment to how the Affordable Care Act and the changes to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program will affect the HIV population in our country. Also, there was a phenomenal panel discussion titled “The Future Generation: Youth Leaders in HIV/AIDS.” The informative yet entertaining, Trina Scott Associate Director, Health Equity and Youth Empowerment at Advocates for Youth moderated this discussion. On the panel was Emily Carson from IGLHRC and HIV Young Leaders Fund, as well as Lawrence Stallworth II, Youth Services Coordinator at Beyond Identities Community Center. Trina Scott provided a briefing regarding HIV, which gave great insight to those who attended both physically and virtually. Ms. Scott gave some staggering statics:
- 60% of new HIV infections in youth occur in African-Americans, 20% in Hispanic/Latinos, and 20% in Whites.
- Over half of new infections among gay and bisexual males are in African-Americans
- About 87% of young males get HIV from male to male sex, 6% from heterosexual sex, 2% from injection drug use, and about 5% from a combination of male-to-male sex and injection drug use.
- 86% of young females got HIV through heterosexual sex and 13% from injection drug use
One of the final statistics that were given that reiterated the sizeable epidemic among African-Americans were that young African-American males have more new infections of HIV than in any other group of youth by race/ethnicity and sex. Outside of these staggering numbers the entire panel discussed interventions, prevention initiatives, and strategies that have been effective at reaching youth who are at most risk of HIV infection. During the question and answer portion, I posed a question, which was how we empower more youth national, more specifically in the south, to be advocates for themselves and their communities. Ms. Scott and the panel agreed that giving youth the opportunity to utilize their talents, having a seat on a board, being placed in leadership positions, and most importantly creating a space for youth to be empowered enough to speak up were things that we discussed. Also, the entire panel agreed to my question, that comprehensive sexual education in schools (beyond abstinence based talks) and encouraging adults to talk about sexual health and ways to protect or reduce the chances of being infected wit HIV or STDs are actions that must take place.
In addition, on day one, there was a panel discussion on ASOs and Community Health Centers: Partnering for Health. This discussion was very interesting because it discussed how ASOs and CBOs were being creative and evolving in an effort to expand services to individuals affected by HIV and to adapt to the changing policies. One of the major topics discussed in this panel discussion was merger. One of the things I took away was that it was more important to discuss potential mergers when organizations were healthy compared to when they are struggling to make ends meet. I learned that when organizations are not healthy and are looking to merge the conversation is no longer about merging but move to acquisition. One thing that every individual on that panel discussion stressed was that egos definitely needed to moved aside at the door. Bronx- based Boom!Health can related to that due to both Robert Cordero and José Dávila, serving as Co-Presidents through a merger of CitiWide Harm Reduction and Bronx AIDS Services. Both organizations’ presidents came together to work for the common good of their community, which can serve as a lesson for so many different community based organizations who refuse to do so based off of conflicting personalities. The Community Summit definitely was a place to have this conversation so the attendees from across the nation can go back to their organizations and remind their leaders of the impeding changes that will soon take effect for all of us who work in HIV.
I personally think that ASOs/CBOs really need to start considering potential mergers and partnerships when negotiations can commence on an even playing field. Seeing so many organizations either struggling or closing and personally affected has encouraged me to being to have that conversation with my own organization.
This year’s ViiV Community Summit had other fantastic sessions surrounding medical updates, PrEP/PEP, and early treatment. The shared detailed community and medical information impressed me. ViiV also flipped the script this year by offering breakout sessions on Women and HIV/AIDS, HIV and Aging, and Bio Statistics in HIV Research.
I attended both the sessions on Women and HIV/AIDS and Bio Statics in HIV Research. It was great to learn additional information on how Women are also greatly affected by HIV/AIDS. Especially in a field where it is so easy to focus on same gender loving men. I also appreciated the free biostatistics course that tied in HIV research. The presenter Amy Cutrell from GlaxoSmithKline definitely made it easy to understand the complexities that surround bio stats.
Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime. The speakers came from all occupations and provided information and stories. Stories on how it was like living with HIV in prisons and receiving updates from the CDC were just the icing on an amazing peanut butter chocolate cake. In addition, as a youth, being able to connect with so many knowledgeable individuals in this field has given me additional insight. There may not have been a huge attendance of youth at this year’s summit; however, the ones who were there definitely made a presence. I really appreciated the attention to detail, friendliness, information, and networking opportunities ViiV Healthcare provided during the entire 15th Community Summit. Since meeting and interacting with ViiV staff at USCA 2014 and now at CS 15, I have become even more appreciative of their efforts to support all that are involved in the cause to end HIV/AIDS. I have never dealt with a pharmaceutical company who placed so much focus on communities. From participation in conferences, their positive action community grants, and hosting events such as this shows the ViiV Healthcare’s investment. ViiV’s staff continues to impress me and I am truly thankful for all of their hard work. Bill Collier, Head of North America; Marc Meachem, Head, External Affairs, and Ashley Mahoney, Manager of External Affairs always were available and willing to talk to anyone. When available, they sat and visited with us and wanted to know what we though about everything. ViiV staff also wanted to know what they could do to better address those who are at risk or living with HIV.
I really appreciated the opportunity to be apart of the 15th Community Summit. I hope that I will be able to attend next year and take away more information and connections that will help my community better address and fight and HIV epidemic.