National Minority AIDS Council Celebrates 25th Year in Las Vegas
In 1986 the American Public Health Association (APHA) held its first ever panel on AIDS at its annual meeting in Las Vegas. Though this event was important, strangely there were no people of color on the panel. Because of this, the National Minority AIDS Council was formed. Now, 25 years later, they are returning to Las Vegas as the nation’s largest annual AIDS conference. The 2012 U.S. Conference on AIDS takes place from September 30 to October 3 at the landmark Caesar’s Palace.
"The annual U.S. Conference on AIDS is very focused on the domestic epidemic, from prevention and education to improving care and services and more," AIDS Community Research Initiative of America Executive Director Daniel Tietz told EDGE. "I think most participants are directly delivering services and/or leading the community-based organizations and departments of health, among others, that provide prevention, treatment and care services in communities large and small across the U.S. So it tends to be a ’nuts and bolts’ conference focused on better understanding today’s epidemic and learning best practices."
Today, APHA has more than 30,000 members worldwide and the Association defines itself as being the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. But 25 years ago they, along with the rest of us, were just beginning to learn about the disease and there was a lot of fear surrounding it. Today, people are living with, rather than dying from this disease.
"We don’t die from this and we don’t live horrible lives. I’m very smart, healthy, active and an openly-positive male," said a young Chicago man who found he was HIV-positive three years ago.
But even though the disease is not the death sentence it used to be, the stigma is still there, and is still every bit as harmful. It’s this type of thinking that ACRIA, APHA and the NMAC are working together to end.
"As part of this year’s conference, there is a ’Blue Ribbon Panel’ working in a two-day pre-conference on a new ’Declaration to End HIV/AIDS in America,’" said Tietz. "As a panel participant, which includes more than 100 leaders from community-based, governmental and other organizations as well as people with HIV, I am working with NMAC to develop and issue the Declaration at this year’s conference."
As the NMAC has noted, "The Declaration will crystallize our values and beliefs on how to translate groundbreaking policy and science developments into an end to HIV/AIDS. Reducing and ending HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and the resulting vulnerabilities and health disparities, is one of the four key points in the draft Declaration."
Tietz said that the document was aimed at ensuring the resources to fight HIV/AIDS quickly make it to the U.S. and across the world, to achieve an AIDS-free generation. He expected to sign the Declaration on behalf of ACRIA, during the course of the conference.
"We’ll then aim to use social media and public social messaging campaigns, as well as advocacy with our elected and public officials, to get the message out that we have the means to end this epidemic and we must all fully commit to doing so now," said Tietz.
To that end, Tietz is personally running two workshops on aging with HIV/AIDS. The first is titled "Examining the Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Services, Care and Treatment for Older Adults Living and Aging with HIV," and is focused on the key policy and advocacy implications of the ACA as they relate to an aging population living with and at risk of HIV.
"Together with my co-presenters from The AIDS Institute, GMHC [Gay Men’s Health Crisis] and SAGE [Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders], a key message is that full and prompt implementation of the ACA is vital to ensuring adequate care and services to all with HIV, but especially for older adults who tend to have additional illnesses and care needs," said Teitz.
The second workshop, "HIV & Aging: The Challenge of the Epidemic’s Fourth Decade," will also address health challenges for gay elders.
"Older adults with HIV have, on average, three additional health conditions, which is referred to as ’multi-morbidity,’" Tietz told EDGE. "Their health status belies their relatively young ages, and their treatment and care needs are complex and poorly understood. Hence, providers need help understanding how best to serve them, and we need more and focused research dollars from NIH [the National Institutes of Health] to better understand and address multi-morbidity."
Aside from the stigma, discrimination and multi-morbidity, undiagnosed or poorly treated depression and social isolation are the most pressing challenges are some of the major issues aging people face with HIV/AIDS.
The 2012 U.S. Conference on AIDS will offer other roundtables, workshops, luncheons and seminars. For more info or to register, visit http://nmac.org.