October 22, 2016
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Open Letter From Black AIDS Institute President

Vienna, Austria - I am filtering through all of my experiences and memories of the week, as we prepare to leave Vienna after a remarkable 18th International AIDS Conference. We are tired but we're inspired--the major science stories of the week were about Black people. We could call it The Year of the Black.

The week before the conference curtain rose, our nation's first Black president announced our nation's first National AIDS Strategy. Because of the demographics of the epidemic, the strategy revolves around Black people. We also learned that week that the possibility exists to create an HIV/AIDS vaccine. Researchers have identified building blocks that provide protection against 99 percent of strands of the virus, and the primary antibody was found in a Black gay man.

The first major story of the conference was about race, poverty and AIDS. To make sure that this story was characterized and contexualized in an accurate way, it was important that Black reporters were present. In the United States, at least, you cannot disengage poverty from race. Not only are they of a whole cloth, they are causal, in fact. Who is poor in America? Who gets AIDS in America? It's not an accident that both groups of people are Black.

The third and most moving experience of this conference is the story about microbicides. This story is important for women, and it's particularly important for Black women across the Disapora and in Africa. The majority of the women impacted by HIV are Black women, including on the African content. The fact is that this extremely elegant clinical trial and presentation were performed completely by South Africans exposes the lie and the stereotype that Black people can't deliver science. That's a wonderful experience.

The fourth story of the conference is PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP involves using a biological barrier to prevent HIV transmission to people who are HIV negative. Any time an intervention has the potential to impact a population base, it's important for Black people.

The next time this body gathers will be in Washington, D.C. There's no way that conference can be about anything but Black people, so the road to Washington begins today. We are at a crossroads now: a lot of the tools necessary to end the AIDS epidemic are in place. It's up to us to pick up those tools and to use them efficiently and effectively to bring about the fast eradication of HIV from our planet.

Yours in the struggle,

Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute


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