I have been HIV positive since 2016, almost five years. When I thought about sharing my story and status publicly, I knew I would eventually attend conferences where I could meet many other amazing women living openly with the condition. I've had dreams about these conferences but I didn't imagine one of my very first conferences would be virtual or conducted during a pandemic. The International Workshop on HIV & Women 2021 was just the second HIV-focused conference I've attended and I was so honored to attend on behalf of The Well Project. A three-day virtual event focused on Women and HIV is monumental in itself, and the fact that I could attend was seriously a blessing!
The nice thing about this being a virtual event was that, if for some reason, like work, I was unable to fully focus on the sessions I planned to attend, I would be able to go back at a later date to give it my undivided attention. Of course, I was not able to fully engage the way I wanted to but I have to say, going back to watch the replay I think was an even better experience because there wasn't the fear of missing something, having technical issues or needing to use the bathroom and missing some pretty important stuff! However, that in-person connection was seriously missed!
Going back and watching the replays actually allowed me to join more than just the sessions that piqued my interest. I must add that this conference was executed in what seemed to be a flawless manner. Presentations started on time and lasted the duration they were planned to last, which showed a true respect for everyone's time. Each day was composed of several sessions with mini presentations for said topic. Topics ranged from COVID-19 impacts including vaccinations, prevention methods, pregnancy, breastfeeding, U = U, mental health, comorbidities and so much more, all with one main theme: WOMEN!
It was truly amazing to see how women were incorporated into all the above-mentioned topics, BUT a common trend was how there needed to be more research, and how women needed to be included! Hearing not only my peers but professionals say this was monumental in my opinion, because it's what so many women living with HIV feel and oftentimes find it difficult to express. We understand we are not seen as a population highly impacted by HIV but we are – and we will continue to be highly impacted if we remain out of research and policy development.
I learned so much from this conference and hope that the specific write-ups I've done (coming soon!), you find to be helpful and thought-provoking in a way that adds fire in your heart but also makes you proud to be a woman living and thriving with HIV.
We're in this together! xoxo