More than 3,000 public health officials, community activists, health care providers, people living with HIV and others from throughout the country were expected to come to D.C. this week to attend the 23rd Annual United States Conference on AIDS.
The conference, which is organized each year by the D.C.-based National Minority AIDS Council, was scheduled to be held Sept. 5-8 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Organizers say the focus of this year’s conference will be the plan announced by President Donald Trump at his State of the Union Address in January and developed by top federal health officials to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.
Details of that plan were disclosed in February by Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was scheduled to speak at the conference on Thursday.
Among them, Redfield said, is a “laser-focused program” that will target 48 U.S. counties, D.C., San Juan, Puerto Rico, and seven states where the HIV epidemic is mostly in rural areas. According to Redfield, those areas are mostly where new HIV infections are occurring in the U.S.
He and other federal health officials said much of the program will involve aggressively promoting the scientifically proven practices of “treatment as prevention” and PrEP, the HIV prevention regimen in which people who are HIV negative take the anti-retroviral drug Truvada that’s been shown to be 97 percent effective in preventing HIV infection.
Federal health officials and community-based organizations working on HIV prevention have also pointed to scientific findings showing that people who take anti-viral medication at the recommended dosage can achieve what has become known as U=U – an undetectable HIV viral load that results in the virus becoming un-transmittable to someone else.
“We are betting on the promise of biomedical HIV prevention, specifically PrEP and U=U,” said Paul Kawata, executive director of National Minority AIDS Council, known as NMAC.
“While we know the science works, we have yet to figure out how to bring the promise of that science to all of the communities that are highly impacted by HIV,” he said in a statement in the conference program book.
Kawata said conference participants, among other things, will look at ways to reach an estimated 400,000 people living with HIV who are not currently in treatment or who are unaware of their HIV status.
“Unfortunately, HIV impacts some of the most marginalized people in our society,” he said. “People who daily face discrimination, stigma, and even violence because of their HIV status, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.”
Among those scheduled to speak at the conference’s opening plenary session on Thursday were Kawata; CDC Director Redfield; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Laura Cheever, associate administrator for the HIV/AIDS Bureau at the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration; and Rear Admiral Michael D. Weahkee, deputy director of Indian Health Service at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Several of the conference workshop sessions were to include presentations on issues related to gay men and men who have sex with men, including gay men of color, who remain among the groups considered at high risk for HIV infection, according to government data on HIV .
Further details on the conference and the full agenda can be obtained at 2019usca.org.