By Nikki Calma
I was fortunate to receive a scholarship from 50+ Strong and Healthy Program to attend this year’s 2019 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, GA. It has been a while since I attended this particular conference. I also was given the opportunity to attend last year’s USCA conference thru the 50 + Strong and Healthy Program.
From the moment I arrived at the hotel, it was obvious that people’s energy was really pumped and excitement was in the air. Although there was a big group of folks who arrived late for the entire conference, it was nice to observe folks from different states and organizations greet each other with warmth, catch up, and brag about what’s been going on in their respective programs. I also felt a great rush to see so many trans folks attend this year. Plus, I think there is something good to be said about having this conference in Atlanta and in these two amazing hotels, the Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis. Both can accommodate the amount of attendees in terms of conference needs and kept the attendees together, plus the hotel staff has been most courteous and unassuming.
Like last year at USCA, PrEP has been on people’s lips. More so this year at this conference, with a PrEP workshop or research or two that was being presented almost each day of the conference. This is such a good move towards all the initiatives being done by CDC and different cities, I think it is important to always remind ourselves that there are challenges that certain communities may face to access PrEP. For example, the trans community was the last to which PrEP marketing was implemented. Many trans folks have to prioritize their immediate needs around medical transition procedures and to add PrEP may be something that may not be a priority for many.
I was also concerned with all the push for PrEP uptake and information at this conference. It was obvious that many who just got into working in this field may be missing some of the basic history of HIV /AIDS and how we got to get to this day and age of this epidemic. It was nice and refreshing to attend the “Storytelling Sessions.” For me, it put that “human” factor for this conference. In these sessions, I heard amazing stories from people who have been impacted, living with, and worked with HIV. This was such a brilliant feature of the conference. I observed people who smiled authentically, moved with tears, and definitely inspired many. It fed the soul for those who was working tirelessly with their communities around HIV.
Even though we are in a day and age of advancement of treating HIV, for someone like me who loves doing this work and serving the community, it is important to have a strong reminder that the reason I got involved 25 years ago in HIV is because it affected me, my friends, my loved ones, and my community.