Changing the Pattern of HIV in the Southern U.S.
In commemorating World AIDS Day 2022, the Prevention through Active Community Engagement (PACE) program’s Region IV Director, CAPT John Oguntomilade based in Atlanta, traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to attend “Change the Pattern”Exit Disclaimer southern tour activities. The Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) PACE program spearheads the regional implementation of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative and continues to strengthen its geographical focus, especially in areas with significant rural HIV burden and, thus, the trip was very fitting. The Change the Pattern multi-city initiative—sponsored by the National AIDS MemorialExit Disclaimer, Southern AIDS CoalitionExit Disclaimer, and Gilead Sciences’ COMPASS InitiativeExit Disclaimer, and as symbolized in its name—is aimed at changing the pattern of the fight to end HIV in the southern U.S., where over half of all new HIV diagnoses occurred in 2020.
Change the Pattern intends to reimagine the response to the HIV epidemic in the region by using the power and beauty of sections the AIDS Memorial Quilt (the Quilt)—including a section made by civil rights activist Rosa Parks—as a teaching tool to reach, engage, and share the lived experiences of communities disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. The initiative brought some the Quilt’s sections to communities in the southern U.S. Doing so highlights the lived experiences of those who lost their lives to AIDS and honors not only their memories but recognizes that their ultimate sacrifices—their lives—contributed to the current progress so many now benefit from regarding the significant advances and improvement in the response to HIV, including diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
During the series of events CAPT Oguntomilade attended, including a luncheon and the Red Social at Kress Hall, the U.S. Government’s theme for World AIDS Day—Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV—was reinforced. The theme’s significance was on full display during a meeting with key leaders in the Alabama Department of Public Health’s EHE Team, where best practices across the region and ways in which they can amplify their HIV program outcomes for the state were shared.
Some of the work OIDP is currently undertaking was displayed at the event, specifically the “I am a Work of ART” national viral suppression campaign. The community-informed campaign encourages people with HIV who are not in care for HIV to seek care, stay in care, and achieve viral suppression by taking antiretroviral therapy (ART). Before attendees entered to see exhibitions of the Quilt enclosed in glass, they were able to first see a banner featuring one of the campaign’s creative partners, and they engaged in discussions about the vibrancy of the campaign. CAPT Oguntomilade shared: “I couldn’t help but think that if we had ART and the resulting viral suppression several decades ago, so many more people could’ve lived long, healthy lives, as people who are virally suppressed now do.”
At the Change the Pattern luncheon, the ongoing work of the Biden-Harris Administration and its prioritization of the social determinants of health, health equity, and looking at HIV from a syndemic perspective were discussed. In his opening remarks, CAPT Oguntomilade highlighted the importance of collaboration with new partners and the need for going beyond traditional healthcare systems to meet people where they are to accomplish the goals of the EHE initiative—specifically reducing the number of new HIV infections in the United States by at least 90 percent by 2030.
The journey to justice and equity continues, and HIV.gov lauds the organizers of the Change the Pattern southern tour and those who work tirelessly toward ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. and especially in the South. “As we continue to see the equality in all human beings, we will fight for equity for all and change the pattern of HIV,” said CAPT Oguntomilade.