Another @APHAAnnualMtg: Successes and challenges in #HIV and #humanrights advocacy at #APHA2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

This now marks the second year in a row I haven't done anything fun for Halloween. This is not because I don't like Halloween or have some kind of personal or ethical objection to it, but rather because I have attended the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, which has fallen on Halloween for the last two years. I always know it will be busy, and yet I consistently underestimate how much energy the conference will take out of me as an introvert going into extreme networking and advocacy mode for four straight days.

When I called my mother on the last day of the conference (because it was her birthday), she asked me how I know whether or not these types of conferences are a worthwhile investment (since I don't go as a function of my day job and thus pay for them out of pocket), and I gave her a sort of canned response that networking and meeting people and getting noticed can turn into potential employment or collaboration opportunities in the future. Which is not untrue per se, but I think that the real benefit for me personally was to be able to see progress in my advocacy work on HIV-related travel restrictions in general, and those in place in South Korea in particular.

After getting a late-breaker policy passed last year that specifically addressed the mandatory HIV testing policy for English teachers in South Korea and the UN CERD decision in response to its challenge, I was able to get a permanent policy proposal adopted by APHA's Governing Council with the enthusiastic support of multiple components, including the HIV/AIDS Section, the Epidemiology Section, and the LGBT Caucus of Public Health Professionals. (My component, the International Health Section, sponsored the policy.) While APHA has not yet taken official action on the basis of the policy, having the position statement in writing and publicly available is certainly progress, and I remain optimistic that the policy can be leveraged to inspire future action from both the organization and its members within. I also hope to be able to work with the World Federation of Public Health Associations to pass a similar policy that can then be used to inspire action from the Korean Public Health Association (which is a member of WFPHA).

After two years of beating this particular drum, I have learned that advocacy can be slow and frustrating work. There is a lot of self-funded travel for opportunities to publicize your cause, and having metaphorical doors repeatedly shut in your face gets old after a while. After a draining four days in Denver I had begun to wonder if my work was making a dent in anyone's attention outside of my immediate circle of APHA colleagues. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I was contacted by This Morning with Alex Jensen, an English-language radio program in Seoul, requesting an interview on the topic of rising HIV rates in Korea because of the article I wrote for Humanosphere last December. It was broadcast on Monday morning in Seoul; a podcast of the interview is available for listening or download here.

Obviously there is still a lot to do, but it is encouraging to see that this issue is finally getting some traction.

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