Start all over again.
That was the message from Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., for those attending the San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Summit at City of Hope on Dec. 5.
“When it comes to educating people about the increasing infection rates of HIV in the U.S., or encouraging people to be screened, or campaigning for more funds for research and treatment, we as a group need to start all over again with a vigor for success,” said Levine, chief medical officer.
The message was not lost on the summit’s attendees, including Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, who cosponsored the event with City of Hope.
“I want to host this summit every year until we don’t have to talk about the stigma associated with this disease, and attitudes are changed enough to make an impact on the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Portantino.
The summit was scheduled to coincide with World AIDS Day, which took place on Dec. 1. Billed as an opportunity to increase awareness of the continued risk the disease poses and to identify a path for action, the event featured discussion among top physicians and advocates.
In addition to a question-and-answer session with Levine, attendees heard from Michael Gottlieb, M.D., the physician who described the first cases of AIDS in the nation. John J. Rossi, Ph.D., professor and Lidow Family Research Chair in the Division of Molecular Biology, and John Zaia, M.D., chair of the Division of Virology, presented an analysis of the latest developments in treatment and future directions.
The summit also included a slate of highly respected community service providers, such as Yvonne Benson, executive director of AIDS Service Center Pasadena, who highlighted efforts to reach people with HIV/AIDS who need services or are unaware of their condition.
Researchers and advocates stressed that biological science must go hand in hand with societal changes. “We are years away from finding a vaccine to prevent HIV infection,” said Levine. “Even if we had adequate funding for research, in the absence of a vaccine, we would still need a real commitment to do the hard things, such as changing behavior.”
Just as physicians use cancer screenings to detect some cancers in their early stages, Levine contends that wider awareness of HIV screenings could slow the spread of infections.
“Even without treatment, a person can live with HIV for 10 years or more, without knowing they are infected, unintentionally infecting others,” Levine said.
For information about participating in next year’s summit, call Portantino’s office at 626-577-9944.