International AIDS Conference

Day 2: Engaging Youth and Engagement Tour (featuring a few celebs) 

Day 2 was definitely an exciting one! I had the opportunity to go to a couple of really impactful sessions ranging from the effect of US politics on global AIDS efforts to case studies in Kenya on preventing maternal to child transmission. In what was certainly a highlight and surprise of the morning, Prince Harry was called from the stage with much excitement to talk about his commitment to HIV/AIDS relief along with Elton John.

Here is a (somewhat blurry) picture of him speaking:

After everyone (ourselves included, of course) finished taking pictures of Prince Harry, Elton John, and Charlize Theron, we saw a panel on youth engagement moderated by Charlize.

A big theme of the conference so far has been the importance of integrating HIV health with sexual and reproductive health  services and education as well as psychosocial support. This issue was so beautifully and passionately highlighted by the youth panel. They talked about the lack of comprehensive sexual education in many settings and lack of respect from providers when accessing services. Describing their own experiences, they emphasized how those gaps contribute to a reactionary response to HIV infection that does not adequately address the need for youth to learn about safe sex and healthy, pleasurable relationships in a positive and supportive environment. Perhaps most importantly, they directly urged leaders in global AIDS organizations to involve youth in decision-making platforms where their own health is at stake. Many of them are living with HIV and shared personal stories about the impact discrimination against youth in global responses to HIV has imposed on their experiences. It was one of the most inspirational and impassioned talks I’ve seen thus far, and it was humbling to listen to the voices of young people who have earned a place in spaces that have excluded them.

In the afternoon, we went on an engagement tour to the offices of an HIV/AIDS data collection program called Stitching HIV Monitoring (SHM) which aims to inform stakeholders about national HIV trends in the Netherlands. I thought the big data impact demonstrated on the tour was a great counterpart to the powerful individual stories we had heard that morning.

The program has data collectors situated in HIV treatment centers across the Netherlands that are responsible for inputting health information for patients with HIV including demographics, co-infections, dates of infection and types of tests and treatment. The information is then used for research on different aspects of HIV. We got to input a mock medical record into the database to learn how it worked. Although it was user-friendly, there was variation in how different groups entered information and we saw firsthand the factors influencing accurate data collection. We hear a lot of statistics describing the burden of HIV depending on different factors and it was valuable to have an example of what it means to collect those statistics and understand some of the potential limitations that exist.

I’m so excited for another full day tomorrow!


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