By Drew Daniels, Manager, Communications, NASTAD
More than 400 public health professionals, researchers and community advocates from all across the United States attended the National African American MSM Leadership Conference on HIV/AIDS and other Health Disparities sponsored by National AIDS & Education Service for Minorities (NAESM) in Atlanta, January 15-18, 2015. With recent current events surrounding police brutality and racism, this year’s theme was “Leading the Movement: Pursuing Health Equity through Social Justice.” The conference focused on how to address health equity and utilize social justice in order to meet the challenge of improving the health of Black men who have sex with men (MSM).
Often times we are bombarded with brutal statistics about what HIV looks like for Black MSM. However, there are a ton of individuals doing work to help foster a sense of community and awareness around producing more positive health outcomes. For example, Justin Rush, Nicholas A. Rango Fellow here at NASTAD was presented with the Harold Philpot Award for his exceptional leadership skills and volunteer work in HIV prevention.
“I think the most important part that attendees and non-attendees should take away was the powerful display of youth who are willing to step in to take the torch to advance HIV prevention in new ways,” said Darwin Thompson, Director of Programs, NAESM.
Fitting perfectly with the theme of the conference, intersectionality of the lives Black MSM stood out through all of the presentations, workshops and networking opportunities. We had the opportunity to interact with leading professionals who focused on how Black MSM self-identify and navigate the intersection of health equity and social justice.
“It feels absolutely euphoric to have pulled off the 12th installment of this conference while doubling the number of conference attendees while still maintaining top notch customer service for each of the attendees,” Thompson said.
Recognizing Research Alone Isn’t Enough
NAESM presenters did an amazing job highlighting the fact that we cannot research our way out of the HIV epidemic. Many of the sessions focused specifically on how we, as public health organizations, researchers and community advocates, can focus more on factors that influence how Black MSM engage with across the continuum of HIV care. With HIV incidence rates steadily rising among young Black MSM (18-24) more than any other group, it is important for us to recognize the challenges and obstacles hindering Black MSM from achieving optimal health outcomes.
I attended a session hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Making Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Work for Young Black MSM.” This session focused on the need to educate more Black MSM about PrEP. In addition to focusing on the research conducted, presenters discussed barriers and obstacles Black MSM face such as where to go to obtain a prescription, how to enroll in insurance and ways to pay for the medication. In another session, “Profile of Black MSM HIV+ Clients in an Inner City,” Dr. Wilbert Jordan from the Oasis Clinic at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, CA highlighted various profiles of the population and examples of demographic and socioeconomic factors during a two year time period and how these findings correlated to their health outcomes.
Aligning Technology with HIV Strategies
It was clear that many public organizations are looking to grow their foot print into more social networking and digital media. Many of the presentations focused on ways we can engage Black MSM in the care continuum, and even how to infuse best practices for creating engaging online content strategies around prevention, retention and linkage to care. There were video presentations like the Greater Than AIDS #Speakout campaign that encouraged young Black MSM to tell personal stories and address how HIV is affecting their lives and community. Through this campaign, individuals utilize the hashtag (#SpeakOutHIV) to share online videos and photos, and even encourage others to participate. Also, AIDS.gov released a trailer of their new video project entitled “Positive Spin”. During many vignettes, participants living with HIV shared their stories to raise awareness of the stages of the HIV care continuum. These videos showed the power of digital storytelling to help emphasize the narrative that people living with HIV can live a long, healthy lives.
Attending my first conference with NAESM as a Manager, Communications I am very excited because I saw some innovative ways to help expand our work here at NASTAD. Many times we are challenged in how effectively our messages are being perceived. From state health departments to health care providers and community organizations, at NASTAD our programming has many, many layers. To communicate effectively we have to make sure our messages are concise and speak clearly to a range of audiences. From webinars to Twitter chats, reaching every audience will require different approaches. It’s important for me to not only recognize but analyze channels to understand how our key audiences want to receive these messages. While conducting our focus groups for the Center of Engaging Black MSM Across The Care Continuum, we learned that stories and experiences will be important to infuse in our outreach and marketing efforts.
The facts are clear that Black MSM continue to have the highest number of new HIV infections. Although I know we have much work ahead of us, this conference reminded me there are many, many individuals dedicated to ending this epidemic. Everywhere you looked during the conference you could see evidence of resilience. It was in the faces of those passionate about findings in their dissertations. Resilience was found in community leaders’ exciting tone while explaining new effective intervention methods or new ways we can meet this population where they are by using social networking and digital media.
Together, as a community, we have to grow and believe the future is brighter because of the amazing work being done on a local, state and federal level. NAESM afforded us this opportunity to come together as a collective to convene, learn, network and engage with fellow peers. No matter the role, it was evident that those who participated in NAESM 2015 were in attendance because they want to see better health outcomes for Black MSM.
Where do you think public health professionals can
We want to hear from you! What other challenges and obstacles do you feel hinder Black MSM from achieving optimal health outcomes? Share your feedback in the comments section below.