Reflection on Personal Experience at the 2018 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit-Los Angeles, CA

By Michelle Rollins, 50+ Strong and Healthy Scholar

I walked away from the 2018 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit on December 2-4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California having learned so much.

As a HIV 50+ Strong and Healthy Scholar, I was impressed with the many interesting topics covered. I learned that through prejudicial thoughts and actions, governments, communities, health care providers, employers, family members and colleagues often contribute to HIV stigma. I learned that ending the HIV epidemic in black and brown communities will take big, bold, innovative, policy initiatives along with authentic engagement. U = U and PrEP are valuable tools all persons can use effectively and an ambitious, effective public awareness campaign is needed. Presenters shared the importance of promoting U=U and PrEP among black women, who present a perfect opportunity to break down obstacles to increasing awareness and reducing stigma. Campaigns like this can be successful if they are strategic and tailored to the context, values, language, and resources available to target audiences. I also learned that stigma leads to several other health-related problems amongst persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS such as: loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem, identity crises and a lack of interest.

This year’s subject matter is particularly important for the citizens of Garden Valley district, where I serve, because our strategy includes crafting easy to understand language in our messages as we speak to the community about advancing innovation, (PrEP), and ending the HIV epidemic in African American and LatinX communities. We believe wording and content of the message depends on what it is supposed to achieve.

Advancing Innovation:
There is a lot at stake! Ending HIV/AIDS is a big-time accomplishment right up there with ending polio, and all other life threating diseases.

I learned how it is important to recognize and address clear patterns of healthcare disparities among African American women. In fact, our greatest challenge is reducing the deep disparity in health status of minorities and especially African American women and make PreP readily available. I learned we are not reaching those in need of another option ending the HIV epidemic in black and Latino communities and ultimately the US will take multifaceted innovative and intentional approaches.

The Garden Valley Neighborhood House mission is to support and promote the advancement of health innovation and technologies in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area by advising, educating, and training community activists in the establishment and legitimate aspects of the healthcare sector. Our view is that health promotion messages should focus on what can be gained by changing behavior, while detection behavior messages should focus on what could be lost if they don’t go through with the screening. I presented on the innovative activities of the Garden Valley Neighborhood House in the Community Corner at the Summit.

Ending the HIV Epidemic:
Incorporating U=U and PrEP into our conversation and communities daily will help break barriers, save lives this will increase awareness and will help to reduce stigma. I learned that People Living with HIV/AIDS not only face personal medical problems but, also social problems associated with the disease such as stigma and discriminatory attitudes. Public stigma and discrimination have harmful effects on the lives of people with HIV/AIDS. I also learned overall education and contact has a positive effect on reducing stigma for adults living with HIV/AIDS. However, contact has a better effect than education at reducing stigma for adults. I learned face-to-face contact is more effective than contact by video.

I learned getting people to change patterns of human behavior is no easy task. What I already knew but has practical application is, in natural world there are basically two kinds of change: evolutionary and disruptive.

Evolutionary change is gentler form of change, typically less destructive but it takes a very long time. Disruptive change is fast, and sometimes necessary but can be extremely destructive or constructive. Do efforts to engage African American women in U=U and PrEP pursue evolutionary change or disruptive change? Perhaps, we need a combination of both. If things continue on their current path, African American women will be digging ourselves out of a ditch.

As a community advocate, HIV 50+ Strong and Healthy Scholar and 2018 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit attendee, I learned part of my task is to make determinations how to approach changing a group of people’s behaviors in order to save lives. I firmly believe through education about PrEP and increasing awareness in communities at most at risk is the key.
In my lifetime there have been seven deadly diseases cured. As a nation, we work tirelessly to remedy major epidemics and illnesses. With determined effort and advancing innovation we can end the HIV epidemic.