In the days directly following World AIDS Day, NC AIDS Action Network team members Donte Prayer (Health Access Coordinator) and Matt Martin (Grassroots Advocacy Manager) had the opportunity to attend NMAC’S HIV Biomedical Prevention Summit in Houston, Texas. This two-day summit has become an annual convening for folks throughout the country to come together and discuss what’s new in the form of PrEP, biomedical treatment, U=U, and all things HIV prevention.
With eyes on the prize in continuing to expand PrEP access to folks throughout North Carolina in 2020 (especially communities that are especially vulnerable to HIV), we asked Donte and Matt to reflect on their time at the Summit and key takeaways. Here’s what they had to say:
What is something new you learned?
Donte: I obtained a better knowledge of Descovy for PrEP overall and more insight on the logic/ reason behind the fact that Descovy for PrEP was only approved and recommended for males and transgender women through clinical trials.
Matt: I attended a session around ChemSex that focused on the increasing rates of Methamphetamine use within queer communities. It was an extremely eye-opening look at a side of substance use that is very seldom talked about, especially with opioid use being very much in the news and a lot of critical harm reduction advocacy happening. It is important that we not forget this side of substance use that may be neglected when it comes to our communities, use of methamphetamines, and the vulnerability of HIV transmission rates within this group of folks.
What had the biggest impact on you?
Donte: I attended the Summit under a program with Latinos Salud! Through engagement and dialogue with the other recipients who were primarily Latinx and attending sessions that were Latinx specific further motivated me to continue my advocacy for people of color in regards to HIV prevention and ensuring the communities are aware of and have equitable access to PrEP!
Matt: This is the third year that I was fortunate enough to attend this Summit, and each year the plenary sessions leave a lasting impact with me. The opening plenary this year focused specifically on centering Black Women in the HIV movement and how we will not end the HIV epidemic until this community is front, center, and leading the dialogue. If health equity is what we are fighting for, we have to stop making decisions based on what we think communities need, we have to stop approaching our work with blinders, and we have to center AND give resources to individuals who have been historically excluded in this fight. Communities know best what communities need.
What is your main take away to bring back to NC?
Donte: My main takeaway is the need to (continuously) educate and make people aware of biomedical HIV prevention options, especially in the state of NC! NC is somewhat “behind” with implementation, services, initiatives compared to other states so more distinct advocacy and awareness of PrEP is needed especially if we plan to end the epidemic.
Matt: I heard something at one of the talks that I attended that really stuck with me and the work that we do here in North Carolina: “Success for services is not in how much access is available, but the utilization of those services by folks in the community.” In so much of the advocacy that we do, one of our top priorities is access to services for folks in North Carolina. We have seen great progress over the past several years of increasing access to many people throughout our state, and still have quite a ways to go in some areas. We know that it in order to get folks engaged in care (including testing, prevention, and treatment), there must be access to those services, but what good is this if those services aren’t being utilized? Once services are established, it is time for us to start looking at implementation and ensuring that our communities are actively and robustly utilizing these lifesaving resources.