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SF, Oakland right choice for AIDS 2020

by BAR Editorial Board

SF, Oakland right choice for AIDS 2020

We're excited that the International AIDS Society is bringing its International AIDS Conference back to San Francisco in 2020. This time Oakland will be involved too, hosting the Global Village, which will offer free activities for the community. It's appropriate since San Francisco and Oakland were at the center of the epidemic's harrowing early days, and both cities continue to experience challenges, especially ensuring that African-Americans have access to PrEP, a very effective yet expensive HIV prevention medication. To be sure, Oakland lags behind San Francisco in funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, and lacks the robust nonprofit infrastructure the city has long enjoyed; that's part of the point of holding AIDS 2020 in the region, IAS officials said. "The partnership of San Francisco and Oakland hosting AIDS 2020 serves as an apt metaphor for the global effort to end HIV - working together, across political and social divides, to achieve our goal of ending this pandemic," AIDS 2020 International Chair Dr. Anton Pozniak of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London said in a statement announcing the location.

Critics are upset about the potentially higher cost to attend the conference in an expensive city, and think that inadequate transportation will frustrate people traveling between the conference in San Francisco and the Global Village in Oakland (an approximately 10-15 minute BART ride). Some would prefer any other U.S. city with lower hotel room rates. These are legitimate concerns, but activists have two years to arrange housing options and travel assistance for low-income attendees. IAS organizers stated that local partners are securing low-cost accommodation by partnering with universities, hotels, and hostels.

For critics, the biggest problem is that San Francisco is in the U.S., where Donald Trump is president, and that his administration's travel bans could affect conference attendees, especially those from outside the country. This is a valid concern, but we think holding AIDS 2020 in the U.S. is a pointed way to defy the president and his administration. IAS officials noted that the conference bid received "unparalleled" support from the state of California, including 33 letters of support from local AIDS organizations; leading activists; political leaders, including the Legislative LGBT Caucus; Governor Jerry Brown; and San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell. San Francisco agreed to waive the cost of the conference venue to ensure affordable access to the meeting from delegates from around the world.

"In December 2017, the IAS' Governing Council selected San Francisco and Oakland as the joint hosts of AIDS 2020 because we are concerned about the retreat from executive leadership on AIDS in the U.S.," officials stated. "The U.S. government plays a vitally important role in addressing the epidemic both globally and domestically, and yet, year after year, we see attempts to dismantle and de-fund these programs. In its bid, the state of California and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland have jointly shown their willingness to resist these changes in partnership with conference organizers."

The IAS said it is committed to organizing a U.S.-based working group similar to one it formed in advance of the 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. Organizers said the group would be supported "to proactively address access concerns and make recommendations to the conference organizers that support the mission and vision of AIDS 2020. Together we will develop solutions that ensure maximum participation and advocate for policy change at the federal level."

If those critical of the conference location want to be productive, they should join this working group to highlight and address concerns about lodging costs. This is a way to make positive change, rather than griping from the sidelines.

For many years, its draconian policy of barring HIV-positive visitors and immigrants prevented the conference from being held in the U.S. After President Barack Obama lifted that ban, the conference was held in Washington, D.C. in 2012.

It's also important to remember that San Francisco still has one of the largest HIV-positive populations in the country; about 16,000 people live with HIV in the city, officials said. The good news is that there were 233 new HIV cases in 2016, a steep decrease over infection rates from previous years. Of the total number of individuals diagnosed with HIV in San Francisco, 70 percent are virally suppressed, which means that they have better health outcomes and do not transmit the virus to others. Conference participants from other states and countries will gain insight into how San Francisco made this achievement, and can empower them with the tools to be effective organizers at home.

IAS conducted an extensive bid process for the host city, or in this case, region. It engaged with more than 20 cities across the world, starting in 2016. It believes San Francisco and Oakland have an opportunity to showcase successful programs for defeating HIV/AIDS, and that includes activists fighting on the frontlines.

"We believe holding AIDS 2020 in the Bay Area, a global capital of AIDS activism, will send a powerful message," Owen Ryan, IAS executive director stated. "It honors the history of those who have fought this disease for decades and provides a platform for demanding continued investments in science, support for those living with HIV, and global AIDS programs."

We agree.


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