Never did I ever imagine that *I* would be standing in ANYbody's conference presenting ANYthing to some nurses. And here we are. This year's Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) Conference was held in Tampa, Florida, November 17-19th and what a wonderful experience this was!
I should have known by the introduction session, "Are you new to ANAC and/or HIV?" that this conference was going to be different than the other conferences that I have had the privilege to attend over the past few years. This was an early session; however it was PACKED! A room that, just by a quick glance, seemed to be so diverse and pleasant and everyone eager to see what was in store over the next few days. During this session we were informed of some of the key events that were to take place, how we could become involved in our local chapters and got to hear stories from nurses who have been involved in HIV/AIDS care since the 80s. It was such a humbling moment to realize just how far we have come in this fight, as it always is when I get the chance to hear first-hand experiences from those who lived to tell them.
Bridgette Picou, The Well Project's stakeholder liaison and lead author on our poster entitled Breastfeeding and HIV: Improving Care and Support for Women Living with HIV, and I spent a lot of time engaging in meaningful discussions with some of the most compassionate and sympathetic individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with around the topic of breastfeeding and HIV. There were posters on food insecurity, integrating STI (sexually transmitted infection) screenings into primary care, improving provider education on HIV/AIDS, and so much more and I felt proud to be among them beside Bridgette. Our poster, which sat at the far back of the exhibit hall, remained quite popular throughout the conference. I recall one provider stating as he smiled, "Thank you for having this! This is the first new thing that I have learned all day!" This warmed my heart and provided further validation of the impact of The Well Project's work.
This exchange happened quite a bit, in different dyads. One nurse and I cried as she explained how she fell helpless in the case of a mother thought to be living with HIV and the unnecessary involvement of Child Protective Services. She wanted more information and more resources to take back to her very conservative community and I was honored to share with her our webpage of breast/chestfeeding resources as well as our plans to create more provider-facing resources in the upcoming year. She asked for more BEEEBAH (Building Equity, Ethics, and Education of Breastfeeding and HIV) pamphlets to share with her community back at home. Felt like a win to me!
The exhibit hall, though not as big as some other conferences I have attended, was quaint and intimate. It housed so many great booths with extremely valuable information and so much history. For instance, I stopped by Until There's a Cure and spoke with Nora who shared with me how she became involved in this work. Right after, I ran into another woman who remembered The Well Project from its early days and how the organization's focus on women and girls was groundbreaking during a time when there was so little information available. The best was when I visited a booth and handed a woman a pamphlet and she literally screamed, "THE WELL PROJECT!" We laughed and she went on to explain that The Well Project is why she chose to write her thesis on women and PrEP and that she is pretty sure that she quoted our resources within it.
Another new experience I had during this conference was the opportunity to attend a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee meeting. During this meeting, we got to hear from the work of one of the fellows and her work on supporting young adults with HIV. I got to participate in the discussion and share experiences that made the other attendees (mainly nurses) gasp. This part gave me hope. I think that is pretty much what this whole conference did for me. I got to go help spread information that can potentially help so many people while simultaneously witnessing that there ARE providers who care about the quality of life for women living with HIV and I got to talk to them!