A Sisterhood of Leaders

October 24, 2012 in Policy/Advocacy

by Gina Brown, AIDS United Regional Organizer

On Friday, October 19, 2912, I flew to Atlanta, GA. to participate in SisterLove’s 2020 Leading Women’s Society Awards and Induction ceremonies. 2020 Leading Women’s Society (LWS) is a ten-year strategic effort to engage the leadership of long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS in creating and implementing an agenda that is based on the hindsight and foresight of 2,020 HIV-positive women in 20 countries. 2020 leaders are trained, mentored and compensated to address key barriers and stresses that prevent or inhibit women from actively engaging in managing their sexual and reproductive health, advocating for their human rights, and generating income that secures their independence and economic empowerment.

In 2009, the first inductees were chosen for the 2020 LWS awards. The 2020 Leading Women’s Society now stands proud with 40 dynamic women actively participating in this leadership program with plans to expand the initiative to increase the number of HIV-positive women leaders in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.

The evening started off with the 2020 women being picked up IN STYLE and chauffeured to the event by a limo company!  Greeting us when we arrived was a group of well-dressed men who escorted us one by one onto the red carpet. Inside we were met by a photographer, and we stopped to give quick interviews before moving on to dinner and the awards. We all felt like celebrities! The awards were for the women with 20 or more years. There were a few young women who had been perinatally infected receiving awards, and all I could think was, “they have never known a life without the HIV virus,” I felt so many emotions sitting in that dining room; sadness at the women who were no longer with us, awe at the fact I was in the room, pride at the work the women in that room were doing, humbled by the fact that someone thought I was deserving of this honor, and I felt comfort, because I now have an even larger network of women I can lean on for support. Friday night was open to family, friends and allies but Saturday’s event would be private.

On Saturday we had empowerment sessions from 8:30 am- 4:30 pm. The group discussed everything from Ending the Epidemic and Entrepreneurship, to Professional Behavior and Keeping Your Story Relevant. I videotaped a message that will be displayed on SisterLove’s Facebook page. That night at the induction ceremony, I was called to the front of the room, a purple stole was placed around my neck, and I was also given a 2020 LWS pin. That’s when it hit me, I am now an Inductee of 2020 Leading Women’s Society!

This is an honor bestowed upon HIV-positive women either for either living as a positive woman for 20 years, and/or working in HIV-related community service. I was honored for my community service, both on a local and national level. In a year and a half I’ll be eligible to receive a 20-year award. At the induction ceremony I stood with women from around the United States — strong, committed leaders — who are now a part of a larger Sisterhood. I am both humbled and a little shocked at this great honor. It’s sometimes hard for me to think of  what I’m doing as a great thing. I advocate because as a woman I know that often around HIV issues, we are the most silent and the most invisible people at the table (that’s when we’re invited to the table), I also know that there are many more women who would love to conduct advocacy around HIV/AIDS but due to the stigma associated with HIV, their voices remain silent. These are the woman I speak and fight for.

I am forever grateful for this honor and I’m already thinking of the woman I can nominate next year.

Día Nacional Latino para la Concientización del SIDA (NLAAD): Una perspectiva desde Puerto Rico

October 15, 2012 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Puerto Rico Direct Grantmaking

by Peter M. Shepard Rivas, MS
Coaí, Inc

La epidemia del VIH es una seria amenaza de salud pública para la comunidad hispana o latina. Los latinos representaron, al 2009, el 20% (9,400) de las nuevas infecciones de VIH (incluidos los residentes de Puerto Rico), siendo a su vez el 16% de la población total de los Estados Unidos (CDC HIV/AIDS among Hispanics/Latinos Fact Sheet, Revised 11/2011). En términos de las estadísticas de Estados Unidos y sus territorios, Puerto Rico se encuentra entre los primeros lugares de incidencia y prevalencia de sida en adultos.

Según el resumen de la epidemia del VIH en Puerto Rico de la Oficina de Epidermiología e Investigación de Vigilancia SIDA, Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico cada día son diagnosticadas 3 personas en la isla (11/2009) con un promedio de 1,116 casos reportados anualmente. Basado en la data del Departamento de Salud y la División de Vigilancia SIDA al 31 de enero de 2012, en Puerto Rico hay reportado 35,080 casos acumulados de SIDA y 8,961 casos diagnosticados de VIH desde junio de 2003. En términos de la población objetivo de nuestro programa, los casos acumulativos de sida diagnosticados al 30/09/12 en adultos y adolescentes por conducta de riesgo la de Hombres que tienen Sexo con Hombres (HSH) representan el 17% (N=34,696), siendo la segunda categoría por género (UDI Hombres – 39%; Heterosexuales – Mujeres 15%) Además la categoría de HSH-UDI representa un 7% (N=35,080) adicional. La importancia de atender la situación del VIH en la isla, sobretodo siendo nuestra área estadística metropolitana una de las más afectadas, la ha convertido en una de las 12 ciudades participantes del esfuerzo del Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning (ECHPP). Esta iniciativa y el desarrollo de nuestro Plan Integral de Prevención nos ponen a la par del NHAS.

El impacto que ha tenido en VIH en la sociedad puertorriqueña amerita que continuamente se refuercen las estrategias de información pública y de concienciación. El Día Nacional Latino para la Concienciación del sida (NLAAD, por sus siglas en inglés) es un gran esfuerzo para alertar a nuestros ciudadanos, como latinos que somos, de la importancia de conocer las formas de prevenir el VIH y de conocer nuestro estatus. Además, la situación política de Puerto Rico crea un constante puente aéreo de intercambio entre los isleños y residentes de los EU creando unos lazos especiales con la comunidad latina dentro de los estados y otros territorios. Aunque las actividades relacionadas al NLAAD está todavía en desarrollo en Puerto Rico, cada año las personas están más consientes de su celebración y de su importancia para erradicar el estigma y discrimen hacia el VIH/sida con la esperanza de que no solo las personas que viven con VIH tengan una vida digna y sin perjuicios, sino que todas las personas que se puedan sentir a riesgo tengan la tranquilidad de acceder a conocer su estatus de VIH y entrar en tratamientos de así necesitarlo.

En Coaí, Inc., durante los últimos 7 años, el programa Aché ha estado realizando pruebas de detección de anticuerpos al VIH y educación en salud & reducción de riesgos. Con los fondos de AIDS United nuestro programa puede reclutar a HSH (negativa a riesgo de VIH o positivos) a participar de un modelo preventivo conocido como Muchos Hombres, Muchas Voces (3MV). A través de este modelo las personas adquieren conocimiento y herramientas para prevenir o reducir el daño al contagio del VIH. Nos sirve, además, como vehículo para reforzar en nuestros participantes la importancia de hacerse la prueba. Por eso, en conmemoración del NLAAD, nuestro programa estará distribuyendo condones, información y realizando pruebas de VIH en lugares donde socializa la población que servimos el 20 de octubre.

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: A Perspective from Puerto Rico

in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Puerto Rico Direct Grantmaking

by Peter M. Shepard Rivas, MS
Coaí, Inc

The HIV epidemic is a serious public health threat to the Hispanic/Latino community. Latinos account for 20% (9,400) of new HIV infections (including residents of Puerto Rico), which is itself 16% of the total population of the United States (CDC HIV/AIDS among Hispanics / Latinos Fact Sheet, Revised 11/2011). In terms of the statistics of the United States and its territories, Puerto Rico is among the top of incidence and prevalence of AIDS in adults.

According to the summary of the Office of Research and AIDS Surveillance, Department of Health regarding the HIV epidemic in Puerto Rico, each day three persons are diagnosed on the island (11/2009) with an average of 1,116 cases reported annually. Based on data from the Division of AIDS Surveillance as of September 30, 2012, Puerto Rico has  reported 35.080 AIDS cases and 8.961 diagnosed HIV cases since June 2003. In terms of the objective population that we reach in our program, cumulative AIDS cases diagnosed at 30/09/12 in adults and adolescents for the risk behavior of men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 17% (N = 34.696), the second category by gender (Men who are injection drug users (IDU) – 39% and Heterosexual Females 15%). Also the category of MSM-IDU represents 7% (N = 35.080). The importance of addressing the HIV situation in Puerto Rico, especially our metropolitan statistical area, has been the reason that we have has become one of the 12 cities participating in the effort of Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning (ECHPP). This initiative and the development of our comprehensive prevention plan put us on par with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

The impact that HIV has had on Puerto Rican society necessitates that we constantly reinforce public information strategies and awareness. The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) is an effort to alert our citizens that, as Latinos, it is important to know how to prevent HIV and to know our status. Moreover, the political situation of Puerto Rico creates an “air bridge” between the island and mainland with a constant exchange between the islanders and residents of the U.S., creating special ties with the Latino community within states and other territories. Although NLAAD-related activities are still under development in Puerto Rico, every year people are more aware of this observance and its importance to eradicate stigma of  HIV/AIDS in the hope that, not only people living with HIV/AIDS have a healthy without harm, but everyone who might be at- risk have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.

For the past seven years in Coaí, Inc., and our Aché program we have been providing HIV tests and health education & risk reduction. With AIDS United funds our program recruits MSM (HIV negative at risk or HIV positive) to participate in a preventive and educational intervention known as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV). Through this model MSM acquire knowledge and tools to prevent or reduce damage for HIV infection. It also serves as a vehicle to reinforce in our participants the importance of getting tested. So in commemoration of NLAAD, our program will be distributing condoms, information and conducting HIV tests in places where the population we serve socializes on October 15.

Coaí, Inc is a grantee of AIDS United’s Puerto Rico grantmaking initiative

Triumph and Teamwork

October 11, 2012 in Team To End AIDS

By Rob Banaszak, Communications Director, AIDS United

Picture this…Chicago…October 7, 2012. The weather is brisk and chilly but the autumn day is crisp and lovely. More than 40,000 runners are in their “corrals,” jumping up and down, stretching, chatting, praying — all anxiously awaiting the moment when they will begin to run. And run and run and run. 26.2 miles.

The Chicago Marathon.

The clock starts and the runners are off! A sea of neon headbands and jackets and tank tops and tights and shoes, all moving to the hypnotic beat of rubber shoes hitting the pavement like a metronome. Pum pum pum pum pum pum pum.

Forty five thousand runners, weaving through skyscrapers one moment, then 30 minutes later a tree-lined park, then 30 minutes after that, wonderful neighborhoods, like Lincoln Park, and Wrigleyville, and Boystown, and Greektown and Chinatown…then snaking back into the gleaming city…

People lining the streets cheering with posters and shouts of encouragement and water and Gatorade and bananas and vaseline (non-runners must imagine for themselves what that might be for).

The energy. The determination. The exhilaration. The triumph!

And the triumph was more than just about my running results (which had significantly improved since my first marathon last year!).  The triumph also was a victory in the fight for an AIDS-free America. You see, I have run my first two marathons as part of AIDS United’s Team to End AIDS program, an endurance training program that raises awareness of the HIV epidemic in the United States by raising funds to support life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs across the country.

As a participant in the Team to End AIDS Program (or T2 as we affectionately call it at AIDS United), I not only had to commit to the training program that would lead me to the promised land of marathon-finishing, but also had to commit to raising funds to support the work of AIDS United, which is not only my employer but is also an organization near and dear to my heart. I am one of nearly 300 people who trained to run in one of several marathons or triathlons, and who also collectively raised more than thousands of dollars to help end AIDS in the United States.

When we raised money for our sponsorships, we raised awareness about HIV in our country with the generous family and friends who supported us.

When we trained wearing our T2 training gear throughout the summer we raised awareness about HIV with all those we encountered on the streets and running trails.

While we wore our special running tank tops that were created just for our marathon events, we raised awareness about HIV with our fellow runners and with all who stood on the sidelines cheering us on.

Team to End AIDS is truly that — a team. But we who have worked so hard to train for our respective events have become much more than that. We have become a family. We support each other, we encourage each other, we push each other, and we celebrate each other.

With that kind of teamwork, we can — and we will — end AIDS in America.

And that’s the team I want to be on!

Education is Power

September 27, 2012 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, m2mPower

By Liam Cabal, Program Manager

Today, on National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I feel both hopeful and frustrated for the state of HIV among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). I am hopeful because we are at a point in time where new prevention strategies are better targeting those most at-risk for infection and treatment options have improved the lives of those living with HIV. However, I am frustrated because as the rates of infection in the U.S. have remained relatively stable for the past six years, MSM continue to be disproportionately affected by and have the highest risk for HIV infection. While MSM make up approximately two percent of the nation’s population, they made up 61 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009. And among MSM, young MSM and black/African American MSM are the most disproportionately affected. We must increase our efforts to tackle the continued problem.

As a gay man, I am especially concerned with how HIV has affected my community. Working in the HIV field daily, sometimes I take for granted the knowledge I have about HIV prevention and treatment. It is when I speak to my peers outside of the field that I am reminded that many gay men have limited knowledge about HIV. They may remember some core messages:  get tested regularly to know your status; use a condom when you have sex; and if you become infected, there are treatment options available that will allow you to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, they may not always act on them, or they don’t see HIV as a problem in our community any longer. We need to continue to engage gay, bisexual and other MSM about how HIV affects them, so they can protect themselves and stay healthy.

To help address this need, AIDS United has launched the first phase of its comprehensive m2mPower initiative through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). m2mPower is a multi-pronged initiative designed to build the capacity of organizations serving MSM to address HIV in their communities where AIDS United will have a targeted MSM mobilization effort to engage non-HIV specific organizations in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. The initiative will mobilize MSM in these communities around HIV-prevention messaging by using a unique combination of cash grants, training, intensive technical assistance, communications expertise, and program evaluation.

I have the privilege of managing this new initiative at AIDS United.  The program is directly connected to my community and brings together my professional and personal passions.  As we observe National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I am proud and excited to be on the ground floor of what promises to be an exciting and comprehensive way to educate gay men about HIV and about their health.   m2mPower truly reflects AIDS United’s commitment  — and mine — to helping those communities disproportionately affected by HIV, and to bringing an end to the HIV epidemic in America.

Atlanta Adds Southern Flavor to Harm Reduction

in Harm Reduction, Southern Initiatives, Syringe Access Fund

By Tessie Castillo, NC Harm Reduction Coalition

You know you’re in for a good time when a conference kicks off with an electric guitar performance. Last week Atlanta hosted the 2nd Annual Southern Harm Reduction conference, launched with a spirited song about jack shacks and brothels and sung by a former sex worker from Georgia…and it only got better from there. Throughout the three day conference, active and former sex workers and drugs users gathered with law enforcement, veterans, academics and community service providers to discuss hot button issues such as overdose prevention, safer crack use, mass incarceration, human trafficking, and drug policy. The event aimed to add southern flavor to harm reduction, a concept usually synonymous with government-funded syringe exchange programs in northern states. But while New York and Massachusetts might have a strong harm reduction presence, small nonprofits and activists from all over the south are quietly addressing issues such as syringe access, appalling rates of HIV and hepatitis, mass incarceration of minorities, violence against sex workers, and drug user stigma.

Take Atlanta for example. Syringe exchange is illegal in the state of Georgia, but Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC), who was one of the conference hosts hosted, has been providing life saving syringes to drug users and taking dirty needles off the streets for years. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, you’ll see Mona Bennett and her famous button hat offering HIV testing, referral to drug treatment, or a helping hand to people who use drugs.

Further up the coast, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition provides harm reduction based direct services and advocacy, as well as trains law enforcement officers on how to avoid accidental needle-sticks and works with them to advocate for saner drugs laws.  In addition, organizations like Project Lazarus have saved hundreds of lives through educating medical providers and the community about overdose prevention.

To the west, Streetworks in Nashville is educating drug users on how blood borne pathogens spread through crack and injection drug use and works to improve the lives of people who use drugs.

Dip down to New Orleans where Women with a Vision provides women and sex workers with empowerment tools for how to lead healthier lives and to serve as their own advocates. These organization are just a few of the many harm reduction programs working to save lives, reduce stigma, and make safer communities below the Mason-Dixon line.

There is a lot of harm reduction in the South, it’s just not as visible as elsewhere. Southern programs grapple with different challenges than northern states, such as greater stigma, fewer resources, and complex legal situations. Southern harm reduction isn’t big and flashy, but small groups of dedicated people are making a difference in every state. The conference in Atlanta was a chance to come together and to learn about what works from people who are doing it. It was a chance to realize, “hey, we’re not alone.” It was a chance to say, we don’t have to bring harm reduction to the south, because we’re already here.

What People Said About the Southern Harm Reduction Conference in Atlanta:

“This conference is a chance to grow harm reduction in the south. I love it because I feel like my neighbors are getting closer.”

– Mona Bennett, Atlanta Harm Reduction, Atlanta, GA

“The incredible attendance for the conference speaks to the commitment in the south to be part of a harm reduction movement and to highlight the issues we face here, because they are unique.”

– Deon Haywood, Women with a Vision, New Orleans, LA

“As a law enforcement officer, I feel encouraged that people from various disciplines are willing to put their differences aside and come together to discuss greater safety and better communities for everyone.”

– Ronald Martin, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, Raleigh, NC

“Using drugs doesn’t make anyone less of a person. We’re here to learn how to protect drug users’ rights and to reduce the harm caused by active drug use.”

– Ron Crowder, Streetworks, Nashville, TN

“I’m stoked at the number of people who have poured out to support southern harm reduction. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve always said that if we could bring support and experts to the south and begin to educate our folks about harm reduction, we could really start to see changes here.”

– Jeff McDowell, Atlanta Harm Reduction, Atlanta, GA

“I’m here to learn and to support my fellow peers in the trenches…I believe we can learn from each other. We get a lot of edicts from the CDC about prevention measures, but what works in New York might not work in the rural south. At this conference I can meet someone from Kentucky who is doing great work and I can bring it back to my state and emulate it.”

– Art Jackson, Independent, Fayetteville, NC

“It’s wonderful see participation from sex workers and people who use drugs. Living in Washington DC it’s easy to get away from that, so it’s important for me to listen and participate and to get involved with people on the ground.”

– Whitney Englander, Harm Reduction Coalition, Washington DC

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*To see conference photos go to the “Southern Harm Reduction and Drug Policy Network” Facebook page

*To check out the podcast on the conference go to the following link: http://harmreduction.org/publication-type/podcast/seventy-nine/