#bearsrepeating: New media at Vancouver focuses on familiar, essential concerns

July 22, 2015

The AVAC Twitter feed has been alight over the last several days as the team tries to capture, in 140 characters, some of the key findings and messages coming out of IAS 2015. A quick search of #IAS2015 shows the range of topics covered over days of concurrent sessions running morning to night. A lot has been covered but if one were to—albeit unscientifically—distill key take-homes based on retweets, favorited tweets and Twitter’s “top tweets” some perhaps unusual suspects rise to the top.

AVAC’s second-most-popular tweet of the week wasn’t on the exciting data from START, the final results of HPTN 052 or the announcement that a young woman remains “in remission” after 11 years. In fact, it was a tweet on the qualitative data presented from the ADAPT study. It noted a simple finding on a complex issue: the need for interventions to reduce HIV-related stigma to help ensure PrEP success.

Looking beyond the AVAC Twitterverse, among the top tweets when searching the #IAS2015 hashtag is one from UN Women linking out to data on barriers some women still face when trying to initiate and stay on treatment (and AVAC covered in an earlier IAS blog post).

Both of these “findings” could easily be filed under “non-shock of the week,” to borrow a phrase from the indomitable activist and writer Kenyon Farrow—but what is shocking in fact is that the statements still need to be made. (Looking for reasons why—consider elsewhere in social media, AIDS activists on Facebook fulminating about an all-male panel on HIV testing and the 90-90-90 goals, in a thread that included the suggestion: if you’re a man invited to be on an all male panel—decline.”)

The reason these tweets garner attention is because there’s a lot of talk, perhaps even lip service, and far too little action when it comes to reducing stigma, truly engaging people who are living with or at risk of HIV or violence or discrimination in programs that will meaningfully change their lives. It’s not that biomedical solutions can be set aside but they can’t work without action on these other fronts. #oldnews #bearsrepeating.

Fortunately, AIDS remains a place for activists who don’t give up—even if it means re-stating what ought to be operating principles. One source, at this meeting, is the Canadian Declaration by Persons Living with HIV, outlines how the goals of the Vancouver Consensus “will only be achieved through a comprehensive, community-driven, global response that respects the human rights of people living with HIV and communities affected by HIV”.

For more fresh ways to restate this imperative, check out Wednesday’s plenary presentation by Michel Kazatchkine (UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia), who reminded the audience of the harm of stigmatization and social marginalization experienced by some vulnerable populations in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia—and the detrimental effect on access to services and health. Policies that criminalize—whether by official or unofficial policy—and drive people underground and away from care.