I’ve been to many conferences in my time, all mostly about HIV. But this one, HealthEVoices2016, happening this week in Chicago, is a little different. Less than ten of us from across North America are HIV advocates. The rest of the approximately 90 attendees represent other health advocacy groups - from breast cancer to arthritis to MS to diabetes to many more. The opportunities for cross-sectoral learning and sharing seem boundless. Already recognized as leading Canada’s most influential HIV website, I can’t help but think, seeing the program in store for us, we will come back better still at what we do.
I think Wayne Bristow and I are the only two Canadians invited. Neither of us have ever been to Chicago before so we are excited. Plus we get to meet a host of familiar names in the HIV social media world we have online relationships with, but have never actually met. People like Joshua Middleton, a straight poz guy from California who writes for PositiveLite.com, Kevin Maloney, famous for his Rise Up to HIV Campaign, Aaron Laxton and Josh Robbins, both of whom I interviewed many moons ago for PositiveLite.com and Brian Ledford, a Marine with HIV, whose recent post about his new serodiscordant relationship we published just this week.
HealthEVoices2016 is organized by big pharma. So I’m required to disclose that Janssen paid for our travel expenses for the summit and that all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
Does that give me a problem? No. The relationship between big pharma and the HIV community is a checkered one for sure, born of mutual inter-dependency and not infrequent squabbles. Drug pricing, for example, has been a constant area of conflict. But in sponsorship of events and conferences of benefit to the HIV community, there has been an amicable truce and in that arena we get on well. In fact we owe a debt of gratitude to the drug companies for reinvesting some of their profits into community activities like these. (I’m wondering if a similar situation occurs within the other health groups.)
Back home, we need to make sure that as many benefit from going to conferences like these as possible. They are incredibly expensive to put on, and scholarships which pay for the attendance of people living with HIV, for example, tend to be quite hard to get, in fact increasingly so. It’s hard to for those with lesser experience to nudge their way into the conference circuit. We need to do all we can to help them get their foot in the door.
In any event, Chicago here we come!