Youth Power Up for A Stigma-Free Future

Last updated: February 2020

Youth Power Up for A Stigma-Free Future was this year’s theme for the 10th Anniversary of the International Conference on Stigma hosted at Howard University on Friday, November 22nd. We wanted to encourage and engage youth from across Washington, DC, and throughout the United States.

We understand the rates of new HIV infections continue to disproportionally impact youth. The conference program committee is working to increase youth participation at all levels of the conference: planning and implementation.

The sole objective of the International Conference on Stigma is to build collective power for individuals, organizations, providers, and communities in addressing and combatting health-related stigma.

What is health-related stigma?

Health-related stigma refers to negative attitudes and beliefs which cause people to fear, reject, avoid and belittle people with certain illnesses or conditions. It involves labeling people as different. Despite medical advances in HIV care, the disease continues to spread globally. Even when mental health care is available, people often continue to avoid treatment. It is our belief that we need to acknowledge and address stigma as a barrier to prevention and treatment.

Stigma as a barrier to prevention and treatment

Initially, the International Conference of Stigma started on December 1, 2010, as a World AIDS Day event, but was later moved to November going forward. The idea was fostered within the Pediatric HIV Research Community Advisory Board in 2009 while they were working closely with a group called Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care, Inc. from Washington, DC, as well as several parents and grandparents of children affected by HIV.

How the International Conference of Stigma came about

The group determines that one of the biggest barriers to care HIV-related stigma, not necessarily the disease itself. After having the same discussion on multiple occasions, the group decided it was time to be active . . . and propose a conference. That decision was made in June of 2010 and they went full speed ahead to hold the first event just less than six months later. The initial support came from internal sources and the NIH Office of AIDS Research.

The purpose of the International Conference of Stigma

The conference creates a space for attendees to develop personal and structural strategies to combat HIV stigma. Participants are challenged to use the strategies developed to make an impact on individuals and local organizations in their respective communities. These strategies include but are not limited to combating stigma, increasing testing for HIV, engagement with medical care, and supporting people living with HIV in their effort to disclose their diagnosis and build the tools and ability to adhere to treatment and follow-up care.

Conference participants have come from various countries around the world including the United States, India, Nepal, South Africa, Cameroon, England, Nigeria, and Kenya.

Who organizes the Conference?

The conference is organized and coordinated by a small staff from Howard University Hospital and led by Sohail Rana, M.D., a Professor of Pediatrics at Howard University. Since 2010, Dr. Rana has served as the conference director. He is supported by Patricia Houston, a Project Director in Pediatric Hematology/HIV Research at Howard University.

The conference lasts for one day and is scheduled with activities like break out workshops, keynote addresses, lunch, the stigma awards, and a host of tabled organizations. We are accepting submissions for scientific and community-based abstracts workshops and artwork which addresses HIV-related stigma.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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