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The 24th annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS will take place virtually from Oct. 19-21, with the opening plenary kicking off at 12 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19.
The conference typically brings together thousands of HIV advocates, caregivers, educators and activists to learn the latest information about the virus and offers them the chance to collaborate with others in their field on how best to provide effective HIV prevention and treatment services.
This year, the conference was moved online due to concerns about large-scale gatherings while the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging. As a result of the chance, in order to make it easily accessible, organizers are foregoing an admission charge to join the conference.
Paul Kawata, the executive director of the HIV/AIDS advocacy group NMAC, which hosts the conference each year, notes that organizers have been forced to learn on the fly as they attempt to set up the technology to accommodate the thousands who will log online to participate.
“It was really important for us to be free for community. We know that everyone is hurting right now. And so for people living with HIV, people on PrEP, and people who are working in the HIV movement, this conference is going to be free,” notes Kawata. “It seemed ridiculous to charge for something when so many people are unemployed or being laid off.
“We’re doing eighty five workshops and or institutes. Right now, staff is busy recording all of them. And they will be online so that people will be able to see them when they happen, but also see them online for the next 12 months,” he adds. “There’s going to be four plenary sessions, and the opening plenary session is really going to look at the intersection of HIV, COVID-19, and Black Lives Matter. And how are we going to, in this difficult world, continue our struggle to end the HIV epidemic?”
Already, 5,400 people have registered for the conference this year. Kawata says organizers worked with a firm to create an online conference platform that can handle 10 to 20 workshops going on simultaneously.
But to ensure content would be available in case of a technological malfunction, organizers began pre-recording the first 30-45 minutes of each workshop to ensure participants were able to gather the baseline information they were seeking, and then combine that with live question-and-answer sessions, hosted by the speakers or facilitators of each workshop.
Kawata also says the conference provides a chance for people within the HIV and HIV research community to reconnect with people who have similar experiences and with whom participants have bonded over the years.
“The theme of the conference is a family reunion,” says Kawata. “And I think what this current time has taught us, at least for me, is that now more than ever, I need my HIV family, and I miss them. Living in isolation or separation has really made me realize how important this family is to my my wellbeing. We’re a little dysfunctional, but we are family and we depend on each other to get through all the challenging things that HIV provides, as well as these times with COVID.”
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