Doctors, social workers, educators, and researchers gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia Monday for a one-day conference called “End AIDS.”
The conference comprised what previously had been three separate summits, focusing on prison health care, HIV and faith, and prevention.
Hannah Zellman of the advocacy organization “Philadelphia Fight,” which put together the conference, said the multidisciplinary approach allows participants to see how different issues relate to one another.
“I think we thought this was an interesting opportunity at how we can really make clear the intersections between prisons and HIV,” she explained. “It was an opportunity to make sure that our typical audiences for those separate conferences were able to access the information across all three major areas.”
Zellman said, for example, HIV rates in prisons are much higher — and being HIV positive means additional challenges after being released from prison — so it’s important for researchers and advocates to connect and work together.
Panelists discussed a wide range of topics at End AIDS — but one of the major issues was a controversial medication called PreP or pre-exposure prophylaxis that those who are HIV negative can take as a preventive measure.
PreP, taken daily, has side effects, but some health care providers say it’s an effective tool in slowing the spread of HIV.
“If we had a vaccine now that was 96 percent effective, we’d be jumping up and down very happy. And we would be saying everybody should be vaccinated,” said Pablo Tebas who oversees the AIDS Clinical Trial Unit at the University of Pennsylvania. “We have a tool that is as effective, and there has been some controversy because it is taking a drug in somebody otherwise healthy all the time.”
Tebas said some primary care providers are not familiar with the drug and don’t feel comfortable prescribing it.
The CDC issued guidelines on the drug’s use about a year ago, but many advocates say it’s still a new concept to care providers and those at risk for contracting HIV.