Give Love, Share Love: Impressions from IAC

By Rob Banaszak on July 25, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference

By Sarah Chrestman, MPH, Evaluation Manager
Louisiana Public Health Institute
New Orleans, LA

I was so excited to attend the International AIDS Conference that I didn’t even think twice about leaving my six-month-old for a week.  With that being said, I did cry the entire way to the airport, but the opportunity to attend THE global event on AIDS was too good to pass up.  My excitement quickly gave way to feeling a little overwhelmed when I opened the 400+ page program to try and map out my approach for the next few days.  I realized that there is absolutely no way that I’ll be able to attend everything I’m interested in.  So I’m trying to balance gathering new information to use in Positive Charge (linkage and retention) with exploring new areas of interests.

My first full day with the conference was incredibly busy.  The big names that we had the privilege of seeing speak included Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH, Phill Wilson of Black AIDS Institute, Sheila Dinotshe Tlou of UNAIDS, and that was just the opening plenary session.  It set the tone for the day, an energetic call to carry on and continue marching towards an AIDS free generation.

It was Sir Elton John that had the greatest impact on my day.  While the world loves his music, I was thrilled to see him in this arena.  In a session centered on public-private partnerships, John called upon us to love.  In speaking about his own trials and tribulations, he told how love saved his life and the power it has to successfully combat one of the greatest problems the world has ever faced.  “Everyone deserves love.  Not enough receive it.  It is up to us to give it, share it.”  This is our call to action.  Love involves compassion, kindness, and support.  It involves counseling and testing and access to medical care and support services.  It involves greater access to life saving drugs.  He reminded us that we know how to overcome HIV and has challenged us all to put the plan into action.

Preliminary data from Louisiana Positive Charge has about 26% of clients reporting stigma as a barrier to receiving medical care.  Other barriers include transportation, fear, denial, and homelessness.  Louisiana has laws that criminalize those with HIV.  We have two cities in the top ten for AIDS case rates.  People are getting tested late once their disease has progressed.  How do we turn the tide of public views away from stigma and fear?  The answer is love.  We have a long road ahead of us, but projects like Positive Charge are not only linking people to HIV medical care and support services but also fighting to turn the tide across the country.  Louisiana Positive Charge are building a more robust statewide network to improve linkage to care using both community based organizations and the public hospital clinics.  It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day activities of our projects.  This is involves site visits, coordination calls, data collection trainings, deadlines, reports, IRB modifications, and grant proposals.  Every day we put out fires.  We move quickly, barely pausing to celebrate any success before moving onto the next issue – and there is always a next issue.  IAC is serving to rejuvenate our team.  We will return home with greater enthusiasm and a renewed sense of purpose, a wealth of knowledge including new skills, and most importantly love.

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