The Importance of the AIDS Conference Being Held in the US: A Physician’s Perspective
July 17, 2012 by Guest contributor
The following post comes from Michelle Collins-Ogle, MD, Director of Infectious Diseases at Warren-Vance Community Health Center:
As a physician and African-American woman, I am excited that the 19th International AIDS Conference (IAC) is being held in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years, and am particularly glad that it is being held in our nation’s capital, whose community has struggled but begun to turn the tide against HIV disease. The IAC is the world's most attended conference on HIV/AIDS and is the largest regularly held conference on any health issue. It provides a forum for the interaction of science, community, leadership and evidence-based policy, as well as an opportunity to strengthen political and financial commitments to fighting HIV/AIDS.
There have been so many advances in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) which has not only allowed them to live longer but, in a bizarre twist, also has supported a continued spread of the virus. Even though many people who know their HIV status modify their behaviors to help protect others from infection, many do not for a variety of reasons, including the powerful factors of stigma and fear. Additionally, there are an estimated 1.2 million PLWHA in the United States, approximately 20 percent of whom are unaware of their HIV+ status. As a result, increasing numbers of people, particularly African Americans, are becoming HIV-infected.
PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) is one of the biomedical strategies now available to address reducing the HIV epidemic. PrEP involves taking daily medicine in order to prevent HIV-negative individuals from contracting HIV through sex. The early studies (iPrEX studies, which were mostly done outside the US and with men who have sex with men [MSM]) have shown that if used in conjunction with condoms, the chances of contracting HIV is reduced by 44 to 75 percent. It is important to point out that in the studies the strategy included prevention counseling and regular HIV testing. For our gay and bisexual brothers, this advancement is huge a step forward in battling HIV infection in those communities.
“Treatment Is Prevention,” also is our new battle cry. There have been many unforgettable moments in the history of HIV. I remember the hope and excitement I felt in 1996 with the dramatic newsflash about the lifesaving effects of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). The Rome conference held in the summer of 2011 is another such memorable moment. The results of trial HTPN 052 were released. That trial showed that in serodiscordant couples where one partner is HIV+ and the other negative, HAART can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission between heterosexual couples. The significance of this study cannot be overstated. Not only does treatment improve the quality of life for PLWHA, but it also prevents the spread of disease. This is monumental as there is no effective vaccine against HIV in the near future and the virus continues to spread.
With so much new science pointing us toward an AIDS-free generation, this is an exciting time for more than 20,000 researchers and activists to come together in DC. We are in the midst of an important era in stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS. As an African-American woman, I am proud that our first Black President, Mr. Obama, stands with us in this fight and initiated the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy. President Obama also has helped to raise awareness about high rates of undiagnosed HIV infection in many communities, including the African-American community, and is seeking to ensure better access to treatment and improved treatment outcomes for all, including Blacks living with HIV who have faced significant health disparities. His dedication and our nation’s renewed focus on the issue have inspired me to continue to remain visible and vigilant in my community, spreading the word that we can win the fight against HIV/AIDS!
The 19th International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington D.C. from July 22 to 27. Learn more about HRC’s involvement by visiting hrc.org/aids2012.
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