AIDS 2012: Two Days Down

By Rob Banaszak on July 24, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference, Access2Care

Beth StringfieldBy Beth Stringfield, Project Coordinator, Positive Charge Initiative

We must have strong backs to support those who are tired… we can change the story of AIDS…courage, dignity…HIV and poverty are intertwined…achievable…unleash the power…communities lead the way. These are some of the words and images that have shaped the first two days of the International AIDS Conference for me.

As I have listened to speakers, watched films, read posters, and talked with fellow participants, there is a sense that we truly are at a turning point in the epidemic; there is excitement about the evidence that continues to build upon itself that treatment is prevention, that medications are again changing the trajectory of the HIV in the course of history.  But that is tempered by frustrations over conversations that recur year after year – overlooked populations, stagnant systems, and relying on medication as the solution to HIV without addressing the social factors that so heavily impact HIV transmission and access to care

Poverty, fragmented systems, racism, violence, and fear are among the many companions to HIV that we must find human solutions to. It’s a daunting task, and having not solved those problems over the course of human history, chances are slim that we’ll solve them in the next few years. But it doesn’t mean we can ignore them either.

Access to care work is not simply about finding medical care providers for our clients and scheduling their appointments. It’s about recognizing and acknowledging that social factors are as much at play in one’s ability to be healthy as medications and medical appointments are. We must work for safe housing for all, transportation systems that meet the needs of our rural folks, societies free of racism, communities in harmony, and families that embrace and value all members.

But knowing that this work will take time, access to care is about helping clients meet the daily needs of living that can then allow them to focus on HIV, and further it must also be about helping a client set goals, exploring personal motivations to stay sober, practicing communication, determining values, and planning for the future. Essentially it is helping clients to build the skills to excel in spite of the challenges that continue to surround them; to be better than HIV. That is what access to care is about.

Perhaps, if we are truly on the cusp of achieving treatment as prevention, we can now turn our attention to the other co-morbidities that no pill can help.

Beth Stringfield works on North Carolina Community AIDS Fund’s Positive Charge access to care program, funded by AIDS United and Bristol-Myer Squibb.

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