Adaptability and creative problem-solving have long been a hallmark of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and AHF’s participation in the first-ever fully virtual International AIDS Conference on July 6 -10 was no different.
Despite some technical challenges and the lack of face-to-face interaction at the virtual conference that many delegates faced, AHF put together a robust program, including three satellite panels, a youth driven “Global Village” booth, an exhibition booth, over a dozen scientific poster presentations, a digital drug pricing advocacy campaign and several on-demand film screenings.
“We made the most of the opportunity to share what we have learned while serving over 1.4 million clients across 45 countries during a double pandemic of AIDS and COVID-19,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Policy and Advocacy. “From our panel discussions, one thing is clear – we need a new global public health convention. We need to restructure. We are not winning now and we will not win in the future. That is true for both AIDS and new pandemics. How many people have to die before we can get our act together globally? It was heartening to see that the HIV/AIDS systems in place around the world have fundamentally held up and have taught us a lot that can be applied to COVID-19, but we do face possible ARV drug shortages and steps backwards if we do not demand strong leadership and change the game plan – now”.
Watch the replay of the satellite panels here:
The first of AHF’s three satellite panels titled “AIDS – The Forgotten Pandemic” sought to explore what a paradigm shift in global public health might look like based on the lessons learned, and not learned, from the global fight on AIDS.
According to the views expressed by the panelists, it’s clear that AIDS remains a global public health crisis and it is imperative to preserve and maintain gains that have been made, especially with the global focus and resources shifting toward responding to COVID-19.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus what was already apparent from how protracted the battle against HIV and TB has been, mainly that we desperately need a functioning, highly coordinated and collaborative system for responding to global infectious disease pandemics.
The panel featured: Dr. Angeli Achrekar, Principal Deputy for PEPFAR; Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author; Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership; Dr. Ricardo Baptista Leite, President of the UNITE Parliamentarian Network, and Member of Parliament of Portugal; Allan Maleche, Executive Director of KELIN Kenya; and Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami. The panel was moderated by Dr. Adele Schwartz Benzaken, AHF Senior Global Medical Director and former Director of the Department of STI, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis at the Ministry of Health of Brazil.
AHF’s second and third satellite panels explored innovative digital marketing strategies for promoting HIV/AIDS services, and challenges and successes faced by transgender people around the world, respectively.
The marketing panel featured representatives from Google and AHF, along with public relations and social media experts, and influencers. The panel highlighted the importance of granular data and analytics in tailoring marketing outreach campaigns to the needs of specific populations, and the high level of sophistication these strategies have reached over the past several years in the spheres of public health and HIV/AIDS service delivery.
The panel exploring challenges and triumphs in the transgender community featured presentations by a diverse, international group of community leaders, academics, and entertainment industry professionals, and was moderated by the renowned trans advocate Queen Victoria Ortega, who leads AHF’s transgender affinity group FLUX.
The panelists acknowledged that COVID-19 is having a severe impact on the transgender community, which is already impacted by exclusion and discrimination in key determinants of health such as employment opportunities, housing, and access to trans-friendly healthcare services. Despite the many challenges, the panel highlighted the rise in visibility of transgender people across a wide array of industries, including business, entertainment, and media. Advocacy strides must continue toward inclusivity of the transgender community in all aspects of society as a way to improve health outcomes among transgender people, reduce the rate of new HIV infections, and combat transphobia.
Watch the replay of the satellite panels here:
At the Global Village community space, AHF hosted a virtual booth staffed by a dynamic group of young women leaders from Haiti, Nigeria, Uganda, and Cambodia, who are part of AHF’s Girls Act! youth empowerment campaign.
They engaged in conversation with Global Village visitors— a part of the conference open to the general public—via the booth chat box with conference attendees, including other youth leaders on strategies for promoting and discussing sexual and reproductive health among young people, how to keep parents involved in the dialogue, and the importance of staying in school.
AHF helped the women participate in the virtual experiences by providing them with smartphones and data plans – a first-time experience for some of them, which will surely open their world to further learning and engagement in advocacy. The booth also featured a short Girls Act! documentary film and information about the objectives and accomplishments of the campaign.
During the week of the conference delegates visited AHF exhibition booth nearly 1,000 times. In addition to featuring live chat with global staff members, the booth offered visitors information about AHF’s global programs, details about each satellite panel, and streaming links to AHF documentary films.
“Girls Act!”, an inspirational film about five brave young women who thrive despite HIV, with the help from AHF’s girl empowerment campaign proved the most popular documentary among the conference attendees. It was closely followed in popularity by “Born Human”, a film offering a candid look at transgender people and their inspirational experiences in pursuit of success, health, love and justice. Narrated by Academy Award® Winner J.K. Simmons, “DRUG$” is a feature-length documentary about Big Pharma greed and the soaring price of medicines in the United States.
While interactions at the virtual booth took place via a text chat box, many visitors to the booth recognized AHF’s presence throughout the conference and expressed gratitude for the organization’s continued support of community groups across the world, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
AHF also used AIDS 2020: Virtual as a digital advocacy opportunity targeting Gilead Sciences’ price gouging of remdesivir, a newly approved COVID-19 treatment that helps hospitalized patients recover more quickly. (Read AHF’s statement here: https://www.aidshealth.org/2020/06/ahf-labels-gilead-war-profiteer-and-greedy-bastards-as-company-prices-covid-drug-at-2k-to-3k/
The official Gilead marketing campaign for AIDS 2020: Virtual was titled “What We Stand For”, it urged participants to add their selfies to a pre-selected list of slogans and colors as a promotional strategy. The submissions were closely monitored and censored so only pro-Gilead phrases were allowed. It created a patchwork of visuals supporting the Gilead brand across the AIDS 2020: Virtual website.
In response, AHF created a social media parody campaign dubbed #GreedyGilead, which mimicked the visual marketing/branding from Gilead. The campaign tweets borrowed the look of the Gilead content with colors and typesets, but instead of “What We Stand For” replaced the messages with the following slogans:
- What We Die From – Greedy Bastard$ / GREED = DEATH
- What We Fight For – People Before Profits
- What We Advocate For – People Before Profits
These messages were tweeted out repeatedly by AHF conference delegates, as well as AHF staff and advocates around the world. Despite the lack of opportunities for face-to-face interaction at the conference, advocacy remained an important element of AHF’s participation in AIDS 2020: Virtual
AHF’s scientific program at the conference featured the latest findings from the field, which were presented in a series of abstract posters, and a poster discussion. The presentations included the following topics:
AHF researchers were also represented as co-authors on several studies conducted by other organizations.
We thank everyone who visited our exhibition booth, satellites, global village booth, engaged in advocacy and viewed our research posters – the fight against AIDS continues!