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More than 2,500 advocates attend first ever virtual AIDSWatch

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More than 2,500 advocates attend first ever virtual AIDSWatch

27th annual AIDSWatch brings focus to ending the HIV epidemic in midst of COVID-19 pandemic


March 30, 2020

Contact: Warren Gill, wgill@aidsunited.org
(202) 599-8259


WASHINGTON —
AIDSWatch, the largest national, constituent-led HIV advocacy event in the country, was held Monday as a series of webinars coupled with electronic advocacy. Through all the channels, more than 2,500 people attended all or part of AIDSWatch.

AIDSWatch, historically an in-person event, was held virtually for the first time in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t make the HIV epidemic go away. In fact, COVID-19 puts a spotlight on just how much is needed to protect people living with or at risk for HIV,” said Carl Baloney Jr., vice president for policy and advocacy at AIDS United, one of three planning organizations for AIDSWatch. “We could have canceled or postponed, but we knew that the work of ending the HIV epidemic must continue, now more than ever.”

Expanding on the importance of the work, Sophia Kass, steering committee member for the US PLWH Caucus, one of the planning organizations, said, “On one hand, this novel coronavirus has exposed and amplified the preexisting systemic inequalities and all the -isms we already knew were there, that were already impacting our social determinants of health and therefore determining our physical and emotional well-being (or lack thereof). On the other hand, COVID-19 has made even more relevant and urgent the need for an HIV/AIDS movement that strategically and meaningfully involves our marginalized communities living with HIV.”

President and CEO of AIDS United, Jesse Milan Jr., said, “One of the greatest lessons the HIV community has learned over the last 40 years is that we must never stop advocating. Nothing has ever been gained for those impacted by HIV without tireless advocacy. Even as we follow public health best practices, we must make our voices heard so that every person has access to the prevention, treatment and care they need.”

AIDS United earlier this month sent Congress an open letter endorsed by 100 organizations that urged members to include the needs of people living with HIV in any relief packages.

Robert Greenwald, director of the Treatment Access Expansion Project, the third planning organization, said, “We all, as a movement, have been participating in AIDS Watch for 27 years, in an effort to stop a virus and end a pandemic. We know what is needed to stop viral pandemics, and we need our members of Congress to listen to us, as we remind and educate them of the lessons learned in the fight to eradicate HIV. Most important, ending pandemics requires investment in policies and programs, that expand evidence-based responses, promoting science over politics.”

Going virtual wasn’t the only way AIDSWatch responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated participants on the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AIDSWatch attendees have always meet in person with members of Congress and thier staff, but since that was not possible, participants engaged in electronic advocacy Monday and will meet with offices virtually in the coming weeks.

Advocacy workshops included education and strategizing around specific issue areas that are part of the community road map to end the HIV epidemic that AIDS United released on World AIDS Day 2018 and has been endorsed by 250 organizations. These included U=U (a campaign to spread awareneds that undetectable equals untransmitable, which means a person with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV), HIV and aging, fighting stigma and syringe access.

There were also several sessions dedicated to the specific needs of populations that are disproportionately impacted by HIV. These include transgender people, sex workers, people who use drugs, Black communities in the South and Latinx people.

A complete list of workshops is available on AIDS United's website.

AIDSWatch is organized by AIDS United, the US PLWH Caucus and the Treatment Access Expansion Project.


ABOUT AIDSWATCH
: AIDSWatch is organized by AIDS United, the Treatment Access Expansion Project, and the US PLHIV Caucus. It is the largest federal HIV advocacy event of its kind. Participants are trained in effective advocacy skills and are coached on how best to share this information with policymakers and their community. After training, participants meet with members of Congress to share their personal stories about the impact of current policies on their community, highlight the importance of HIV as an issue for their constituents and present a face for the issue. Learn more at www.aidsunited.org/aidswatch.


ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, AIDS UNITED
: AIDS United’s mission is to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. through strategic grant-making, capacity building and policy. AIDS United works to ensure access to life-saving HIV care and prevention services and to advance sound HIV-related policy for populations and communities most impacted by the U.S. epidemic. To date, our strategic grant-making initiatives have directly funded more than $104 million to local communities and have leveraged more than $117 million in additional investments for programs that include but are not limited to HIV prevention, access to care, capacity building, harm reduction and advocacy. Learn more at www.aidsunited.org.


ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, THE TREATMENT ACCESS EXPANSION PROJECT
: TAEP was founded in 1996 with the mission of working to expand access to health care to low-income individuals living with HIV. Since that time, TAEP’s work has expanded to encompass the health care access needs of all low-income individuals living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. In collaboration with national, state, and local partners, TAEP seeks to secure, preserve and promote access to a broad range of care, treatment and essential support services that are necessary to maintain health. Learn more at www.taepusa.org.


ABOUT ORGANIZING PARTNER, THE US PLHIV CAUCUS
: The caucus is a group of networks, organizations and advocates dedicated to the Denver Principles and the meaningful involvement of people with HIV/AIDS.  We seek to create a diverse and accountable culture of leadership and engagement at both state and national levels. Learn more at www.hivcaucus.org.


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