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Fenway Institute Staff Attends USCA as HIV Advocacy Academy Fellows

Recently, Fenway Institute research staff members were selected to attend the 2019 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Washington, DC as HIV Advocacy Academy fellows. We caught up with them and other attendees to learn more about their experiences as HIV Advocacy Academy fellows at USCA.

“When I got the news that I was one of the selected HIV Advocacy Academy fellows going to USCA on behalf of the Getting to Zero Coalition of MA, I knew it would provide an opportunity to learn from, network with, and engage the many individuals working in institutions spanning the fields of public policy, advocacy, and health care,” said Maksim Sigal, Research Assistant – LGBTQ and HIV. “I did not realize all the other elements that I would experience that moved me, challenged me, and reinvigorated me to work toward a more equitable future for all those living with and affected by HIV. It also made me appreciate the privileges allotted to us in the Boston area that are not universal throughout the country. Though there are many barriers, the individuals and organizations working on the ground are determined to end the epidemic. They understand that representation matters, that this work can’t be accomplished without the participation of all affected communities, and they aren’t afraid to hold back criticism of governmental agencies and others who fail to realize this fact. This spirit is truly inspiring and is reminiscent of the energy of GHMC and ACT UP, that this work is done in the memory of all those that have passed in their fight for progress. That is something that has guided my work as a researcher everyday and now as an activist.”

“We are very privileged to live in a state where over 97% of our residents are medically insured, and where we have many tools to continue to make great strides in bridging care gaps and meet unmet needs in the populations we serve,” said Aron Thiim, Senior Research Assistant – Behavioral Sciences. “Unfortunately, this is not a reality in other parts of the country that are not afforded the same privileges, where stigma is pervasive, barriers to treatment access are wide-ranging, and funding is more limited. Nevertheless, the public health professionals in these areas are pounding the pavement with novel strategies and collaborations to end the epidemic, i.e. zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. My experience at USCA was empowering and energizing to continue fighting tirelessly for all affected and touched by this epidemic. One day soon, we will get to zero.”

Academy fellows worked on a number of team projects during their time at USCA on topics such as Healthy Youth, State Budget, PrEP + Youth Access, Supervised Consumption, The Safe Communities Act, and HIV + Aging.

“The USCA was an amazing experience,” said Lois Nestor, a Masters of Public Health candidate at the BU School of Public Health. “In the various workshops, I was able to hear from leaders and learn valuable information. Learning about the breakthrough research, interventions, and policies has equipped me with the latest knowledge in the field. Collaboration and resilience will allow for us to fight stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Together we can fight for health equity and inclusion in biomedical research and interventions. Creating ways to prevent HIV, diagnose as soon as possible, and provide patient-centered treatment is essential to creating a healthier nation, and together across disciplines we will be able to end the HIV epidemic.”

“For me, going to USCA meant determining my place with the work I’ve been passionate to do with my community of PLWHA who are 50+,” said George Diaz, a Boston-based activist for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) over 50. “I felt a boost when learning about projects that are already in place in other states that could be tailored and implemented to our area to address needs, and networking with people who share my passion.”

Congratulations to all the 2019 HIV Advocacy Academy fellows!

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