Philadelphia FIGHT’s HIV Education Summit returns in person for the first time since the pandemic

An estimated 18,000 people currently live with HIV in Philadelphia. The summit is aimed at care providers, patients and community members.

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Scientists identified the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, over 40 years ago. But even today, experts and advocates say there is still so much stigma and misconception around how the virus spreads and how the disease can be managed as a chronic illness.

Philadelphia FIGHT’s annual June event, the HIV Education Summit, aims to dispel some of those myths and provide the latest updates on support services and treatment for those living with HIV.

For the first time since going virtual in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summit and its workshops will return in person to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

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“It’s kind of helping us to not only educate, but also … to have an open dialogue about HIV and its intersection with mental health and all the other things that come into play as a result of living with this chronic illness,” said Tashina Reeder, director of the organization’s Community Health Training Alliance and a person living with HIV.

An estimated 18,000 people are living with HIV in Philadelphia alone, according to city data. The virus spreads from person to person through blood and other bodily fluids and can be managed as a chronic disease with long-acting antiviral medication.

If left untreated, the virus can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a more serious and life-threatening phase of illness.

This year’s education summit focuses on four main themes and topics: HIV treatments and research for a cure; HIV and aging; self-care and wellbeing for caretakers; and HIV and faith.

“I hope that whichever workshops you decide to go to will also change your own biases you may have around HIV and AIDS, and that you change your approach in how you either interact with others or your own thinking about the virus,” Reeder said.

More information about Philadelphia FIGHT’s 2024 education summit on June 27 can be found online.

Some Philly-area health organizations supporting people living with HIV and AIDS

Philadelphia FIGHT began as a grassroots advocacy group that championed the health rights of those living with HIV and AIDS in the early 1990s. Since then, the organization has become a Federally Qualified Health Center, offering HIV/AIDS-related care as well as primary care, behavioral health, LGBTQIA+ gender-affirming and sexuality care, women’s health care and more. It also offers various educational and support programs.

Also based in Philadelphia, Bebashi was founded in 1985 with the goal of providing medical care and support to people of color during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. The organization still offers those services and has expanded to provide screening and testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, primary care, substance use disorder treatment, family planning services and more. The center also runs a food pantry for clients and families with low incomes.

The Mazzoni Center’s roots in Philadelphia date back to the early 1980s as early founders worked to provide health care support to the city’s lesbian and gay communities. As the HIV/AIDS crisis ramped up, the organization established the first HIV testing site in Pennsylvania, opened a HIV-related housing program and a HIV-specific food bank. Today, the center’s services also include youth and adult primary care, mental health care, gender-affirming care, harm reduction support, case management and more.

The Philadelphia AIDS Consortium provides medical care, HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, as well as an emergency food voucher program, a clothing bank, language interpretation services, in-house legal support and educational training.

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In Delaware County, the AIDS Care Group is a nonprofit organization that provides medical, dental and social services in the Greater Philadelphia region. It offers specialty HIV/AIDS care, including screening and testing, treatment management and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), as well as advocacy and support programs.

The Family Service of Chester County’s Project ONE initiative provides case management services to help connect people living with HIV and AIDS to medical treatment, counseling, mental health care, substance use treatment, housing, support groups, transportation assistance and other social services.

The South Jersey AIDS Alliance spans several locations across Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties in New Jersey. The organization provides HIV/AIDS-related testing, screening, counseling, prevention and treatment services, as well as drug use harm reduction supplies like fentanyl and xylazine test strips and naloxone overdose reversal kits. The organization will celebrate 40 years of service in 2025.

In partnership with local clinical providers, public health leaders, private businesses and other community members, the Delaware HIV Consortium works to connect people with prevention, testing and treatment services. The nonprofit hosts trainings and workshops and operates a rental assistance program specifically for people living with HIV/AIDS, which has been in place since 1998.

AIDS Delaware has also served the region for the past 40 years. In addition to providing mobile testing services, medical case management, mental health counseling and PrEP, the organization runs specific education programs aimed at teens through performance and talent shows, and partners with local barbershops and salons to increase outreach in Black communities.

This is not a complete list of all HIV/AIDS services in the Philadelphia region. For more information about resources in your neighborhood, contact your local county health department for additional services.

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