Over one hundred HIV advocates from across North Carolina and the South made their way to Winston-Salem State University for Stronger Together: NC HIV/AIDS Advocacy Conference 2016 on Saturday, September 10th, 2016. The annual all-day conference, hosted by the North Carolina AIDS Action Network and the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, included plenty of breakout sessions for advocates to learn how to fight for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, people who use drugs, sex workers, and affected communities from grassroots leaders and respected experts.
The conference included a variety of HIV/AIDS-focused workshops, including “HIV is Not a Crime” and “The Trans Community, HIV Stigma and HB2.” “Much has changed in the landscape of trans equality over the last year,’ says Crystal Richardson, Esq., the Director of Advocacy at Equality NC. ‘Available data, which is mostly limited, shows an alarmingly high HIV rate among the trans community, and legislation like HB2 and negative dialogue about trans individuals in North Carolina and across the South stigmatizes those most in need of services.”
Prior to the official start of the conference, the NC AIDS Action Network, along with the North Carolina AIDS Training and Education Center (NCATEC), hosted PrEPing for 2017: North Carolina Moves Forward, a PrEP-centered pre-conference summit, on Friday, September 9th, 2016 at The Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center in Winston-Salem. The summit covered PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and future plans to expand PrEP access throughout the state.
"With North Carolina, along with the rest of the deep South, being in the heart of the current HIV epidemic, our state needs to increase HIV/AIDS prevention efforts statewide through syringe access, safer sex education in schools, and, through access to PrEP,’ says Amanda Stem, Advocacy Supervisor at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project in Asheville, NC. ‘North Carolina currently has two cities on the list of top 15 cities in the nation with the highest amounts of new HIV infections, which are Greensboro and Charlotte and increasing access to PrEP in our state is a vital tool in reducing transmission rates. PrEP is another tool in the toolkit for prevention but studies show it is highly effective, especially when used with condoms, antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV, and drug use treatment. HIV is not a virus with a one shot cure-all and right now it takes many tools to prevent and treat, but if this proven prevention method is out there, then why aren't we making it easier to get?"
Advocates are optimistic for the future of people living with HIV/AIDS in North Carolina. This past year, the NC AIDS Action Network has experienced various legislative victories for the NC HIV/AIDS community on the state and federal levels, including the NC General Assembly expanding the AIDS Drug Assistance Program to allow the program to use funds for premium assistance and Congress unanimously passing legislation that would modernize the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) funding formula, which would allocate HOPWA funding based on the number of people currently living with HIV instead of the current cumulative formula.
-Christina Adeleke, NCAAN Communications and Development Coordinator