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Watch Activists Storm The Stage at USCA, Protesting Neglect From CDC

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Protestors from various HIV organizations across the United States stormed the stage at the 2019 United States Conference on AIDS in Washington, D.C. this morning, soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Robert Redfield, spoke with MSNBC's Joy Reid about the agency’s new plan to end HIV by 2030.

Redfield, a Trump appointee, stands behind the plan to reduce new diagnoses by 75 percent within five years, and 90 percent within 10 years. And as he previously told Plus, it starts in jurisdictions like Washington, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, where “over 50 percent of new diagnoses occurred in 2016 and 2017.”

The plan is particularly focused only on 48 counties that are most vulnerable to HIV outbreaks (even though Cabell County, which was not on that list, recently had an outbreak of its own).

In a nutshell, the new plan will alter the way money is allocated, directing resources to the locations that represent the highest number of new diagnoses. In other words, it will build programs to deliver treatment and care to where the people are — rather than having people travel to where the treatment was.

Redfield explained to Plus that making this change is going to “require innovation in care delivery systems,” specifically on the local end. “Concentrating resources and allowing [at-risk] communities to develop their own individual community plans,” rather than having “a set plan for everybody” is a key focus moving forward.

But activists claim the CDC does very little to include communities that are most impacted in the conversations about how to end the epidemic. Ronald Johnson, a chair of the United States People Living With HIV Caucus, began the protest.  

“We are here today to say that it is impossible [to end the epidemic] without meaningful partnership with the [HIV-positive] community. There has been no clear process to listen to and learn form communities most impacted,” Johnson stated. “We are here to demand ensurances that the community will have actual decision making power and oversight in the national state and local implementation of the new initiative.”

He added, “A community that is not seen cannot be effectively served.”

Nina Khanna, executive director of Positive Women’s Network-USA, a network of women living with HIV advocating on issues that impact them most, touched on the plan’s practice of molecular HIV surveillance.

“One of the things Dr. Redfield didn’t talk about today is the fourth pillar known as molecular HIV surveillance,” Khanna explained to the crowd. “Molecular HIV surveillance is the practice of sequencing the HIV genome. When we get tested or when we get new meds, our HIV virus is sequenced. It goes into a national database that is being used and scaled up in order to track what they call ‘HIV outbreaks.’ This all sounds good right? Here are some problems…”

“Number one,” she continues. “People living with HIV didn’t know this was happening and we did not consent to this. Number two, over 20 states have laws that criminalize people living with HIV. That means when they trace these clusters, they are tracing people at risk of prosecution — and we are not confused about who is most impacted by this epidemic. They are the communities that are most surveilled and policed. We are also not confuse that this administration is literally attacking those same communities: Black people, immigrants, trans people… We are calling for an immediate [end] until these concerns are addressed.”

James Krellenstein, a cofounder of PrEP4All, a grassroots initiative advocating for wider access to Truvada, also grabbed the mic to speak on behalf of those who cannot access the HIV prevention drug.

Krellenstein began by telling a story of a friend who was diagnosed with HIV: “His diagnoses, like every single one of the nearly 40,000 a year that happen in this country, was completely preventable,” he explained.

“Dr. Redfield, your agency, the CDC, could have prevented his infection but didn’t,” Krellenstein said. “We didn’t know it at the time, but the CDC owns patents on PrEP that could have prevented a drug company from charging over $1600 a month for a drug that costs less than $6 a month to produce. Dr. Redfield, our community didn’t know about these patents bc your agency hid it from us. If you’re serious about ending this epidemic, you cannot continue to mislead and ignore the very communities that are most impacted by us.”

He continued, “Dr. Redfield, you cannot end this epidemic by continuing to misgender our transgender brothers and sisters… You cannot end this epidemic by failing to ensure that enough federal resources are going to the communities, especially communities of color that are most vulnerable to the epidemic… We cannot end this epidemic while your administration puts undocumented people in concentration camps, denying them access to HIV medication. Dr. Redfield, you cannot end this epidemic without us.”

Arianna Lint, executive director of Arianna's Center — a community-based organization that provides advocacy, education and training, case management, and linkage to care for trans men and women in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami and Orlando, Fla. — also spoke.

“We need more transgender protections put on the table,” she said plainly. “I’m behind one the largest transgender-led programs, like Positively Trans, Casa Ruby, different organizations that are working, [but] always invisible.”

“You’re talking about data,” she said directly to Redfield. “Let me give you data. We are not a problem, we are part of the solution… Nothing is developed for us. We have us, the transgender community. When you’re looking for data, hire us. We want to make the difference.”

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