Letters from the Director: OAR, NIH Participation in AIDS 2020: Virtual
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of AIDS Research (OAR) actively participated in the 23rd International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2020: Virtual, from July 6-10. Hosted by the International AIDS Society (IAS), the biennial conference brings together scientists, policy makers, healthcare professionals, people living with HIV, funders, media and community from around the world to discuss HIV science, research, and policy and to foster connections to advance the HIV response.
“Resilience” was the theme of the conference and symbolic of the extraordinary circumstances that coincided with AIDS 2020. The conference was scheduled to take place at two venues in San Francisco and Oakland, California, and detailed arrangements for a gathering of more than 20,000 attendees were in place when the COVID-19 pandemic surged in March. Organizers were forced to make a tough decision – to proceed as planned or pivot last minute to a virtual format. After weighing the health consequences of potential exposure to COVID-19, and consulting with leading health authorities, organizers agreed that switching to a virtual platform was the most prudent way to proceed.
While the process of shifting AIDS 2020 was daunting, organizers accomplished it without pause and produced an informative and polished virtual event that engaged a global audience in meaningful discussions on HIV and the future of the AIDS response. The conference featured thousands of presentations, offered rich programming for registrants and free content for the public, and included latest breaking HIV science and new developments.
OAR was pleased to be part of the NIH community that participated in AIDS 2020 and to organize a virtual satellite session. I co-hosted OAR’s satellite with Moderator Dr. Jen Kates; the satellite included pre-recorded presentations and a live panel discussion highlighting The Impact of NIH HIV/AIDS Research and Discovery at the Intersection of Prevention, Treatment, and Disparities Across the Lifespan. The aim of our conversations was to build the capacity of current and future generations of HIV researchers and advocates to address 21st century challenges with 21st century solutions.
A cadre of distinguished multidisciplinary HIV scientists and experts joined me for OAR’s virtual program, including:
- Jennifer Kates, PhD (Moderator): Senior Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Chair, Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council
- Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH: Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Health Behavior and Director of the Behavior and Technology Lab, University of North Carolina School of Medicine
- Ernest Hopkins: Senior Strategist and Advisor, San Francisco AIDS Foundation
- Amy Justice, MD, PhD: CNH Long Professor of Medicine and of Public Health, Yale University, Staff Physician, VA Connecticut Healthcare System
- Nittaya Phanuphak, MD, PhD: Executive Director, Institute of HIV Research and Innovation (IHRI), Bangkok, Thailand
- John Sleasman, MD: Dr. Glenn A. Kiser and Eltha Muriel Kiser Professor of Pediatrics, Chief, Division of Allergy/Immunology, and Chief, Division of Pulmonary Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine
- Sunil Suhas Solomon, MBBS, PhD, MPH: Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
- Darrell P. Wheeler, PhD, MPH, ACSW: Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Iona College
During OAR’s pre-recorded session of The Impact of NIH HIV/AIDS Research and Discovery at the Intersection of Prevention, Treatment, and Disparities Across the Lifespan, panelists delivered rich presentations on the following topics:
- HIV Prevention Research Intersections Across the Lifespan (from a domestic perspective, with a special focus on youth; Dr. Hightow-Weidman)
- Frailty & Polypharmacy in Aging with HIV (Dr. Justice), and
- HIV and U.S. Disparities in Care and Engagement Across the Lifespan (Dr. Wheeler)
Each presentation offered fresh perspective on steps that are essential for advancing HIV prevention and treatment outcomes across the life spectrum, and drove home the point that we need to universally adopt these approaches to make strides with HIV research:
- Tailor evidence and culturally-based tools for prevention and treatment to address specific needs of different populations.
- Engage communities in all facets of the research process to enhance effectiveness of interventions.
- Address social and economic barriers that underly health disparities.
The pre-recorded session is publicly available on the AIDS 2020 website.
During the live session that followed, OAR’s full panel examined these topics through a global lens, and shared additional research findings and insights on how global and domestic HIV epidemics can inform each other to accelerate epidemic control. The conversation was extraordinary and yielded fresh ideas on how to collectively implement the approaches discussed during our pre-recorded session, and focused on these strategies:
- Engage more young researchers from different backgrounds.
- Increase community engagement by being more sensitive to terminology that’s relevant to our stakeholder communities.
- Improve the pipeline for HIV prevention and treatment efforts, reach out to colleagues in other countries to see how they’ve implemented broad-based, effective community outreach.
- Address health disparities by focusing on the unique needs of different communities and populations.
- Break down barriers that confine HIV healthcare (e.g. hospital walls) to provide more point-of-care in the field.
- Continue using lessons learned from decades of HIV research to inform efforts to address the intersection of HIV and COVID-19.
NIH HIV research had a notable presence throughout AIDS 2020. Other NIH HIV activities included:
- Launch of a JIAS Supplement: Integrating Services for HIV and Related Comorbidities: Modelling to Inform Policy and Practice (Fogarty International Center)
- HIV Vaccine: The Search Goes on! (NIH/HIV Vaccine Trials Network/HIV Prevention Trials Network)
- We Must Address Inequities in Healthcare Access to End the HIV Epidemic: NIH Center Research to Reach the Hardly Reached. (Dr. Christopher Gordon, National Institute of Mental Health)
- COVID-19 and the Research Response (Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID])
- Ending HIV: Research Progress and Priorities (Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, NIAID)
Overall, AIDS 2020: Virtual provided OAR with fresh ideas as we continue to coordinate the NIH HIV/AIDS portfolio. The digital platform provided expanded access by attendees across the globe and we expect this virtual approach to continue being integrated into future conferences and gatherings, even when social distancing is no longer required. We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our panelists, colleagues, and the event organizers, and look forward to a time when we can continue these important conversations in person.
For more details about the conference, I encourage you to visit the AIDS 2020 website.
Maureen M. Goodenow, Ph.D.
Associate Director for AIDS Research and
Director, Office of AIDS Research
National Institutes of Health