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By Phoebe Miller – Student, Berkeley Public Health & UCSF Joint Medical Program, MS ‘20, MD ‘22

In November, I attended the AIDS 2020 Townhall in Oakland. Organizers of one of the largest international HIV scientific conferences got together with the East Bay community to discuss local HIV epidemiology and goals of the East Bay Getting to Zero, and community involvement in the planning of the 23rd International AIDS 2020 conference, which is to be held in Oakland and San Francisco, July 6th – 10th, 2020.

At the townhall, we heard from epidemiologists from Alameda County and the San Francisco public health departments. In San Francisco and Alameda County, we have seen massive improvements in new diagnosis of HIV in last 10 years. In 2018, there were just over 200 new diagnoses in Alameda County and, for the first time, this number dropped below 200 in San Francisco in 2018.

However, these gains have not been felt uniformly across all groups. Disproportionately between 2016 and 2018 there were 70 new diagnoses per 100,000 amongst African-Americans compared to almost 20 amongst Latinx, around 10 amongst Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 4-5 per 100,000 amongst Whites. While there is nothing biological about race, structural racism continues to play a pivotal role in the HIV epidemic here in the East Bay. Additionally, a much higher percentage of Asian and Pacific Islanders (29.2%) and Latinx (22.7%) receive a late diagnosis, at which point their HIV has progressed to AIDs.

Additionally, disparities emerged between the rates of new infection and rapid treatment between San Francisco and Oakland. Neither San Francisco or Oakland will be able to get to zero without working together.

Enter the 23rd international AIDS conference, which will bridge the two cities and their common fight to get to zero. The theme of next summer’s conference is resilience, to honor the long history of HIV/AIDS activism in the bay area, and to acknowledge our entrance into the next phase of this epidemic where the populations affected are aging and sustained commitment will be needed to continue this almost 40 year fight.

This is a chance for San Francisco and Oakland to present to the world a vision for how the world can get to zero. And the key to this visionary conference is our amazing community of committed advocates and researchers.

There are many ways for the Berkeley community to get involved.

First, there is the abstract mentor program where young or less experienced researchers have the opportunity to improve their abstracts ahead of submission to increase the chance of their work being accepted. The committee is looking for mentors who have had at least two abstracts accepted at international scientific conferences and have co-authored at least one manuscript accepted by a peer-reviewed scientific journal within the past five years.

Second, you can get involved with their media presence and join the global conversation using #AIDS2020 to share the message provided on their website. Lastly, local HIV activists can be paired with local visual artists to promote beautiful and diverse art each month embodying the theme of resilience.

This is an amazing opportunity for our community to support the work being done to bridge our two cities and to welcome the global HIV activism community.