Thursday, June 6, 2024

Perspectives on SYNC’ing

By: Ranier Simons, ADAP Blog Guest Contributor

Synchronicity 2024, referred to as SYNC 2024, was held last week in Arlington, Virigina May 29th to May 31st. It is a national conference for HIV, HCV, STIs, Harm Reduction, LGBTQ Health, and Health Equity. This is the tenth year this unique conference has been held, bringing together a diverse audience of participants. SYNC is one of few spaces where clinicians, state and local health department directors, students, researchers, social workers, community activists, patient advocates, policymakers, and even D.C. government officials are all under the same roof with access to each other. The value of creating such a space is the reason companies like Gilead Sciences, ViiV Healthcare, and Merck are sponsors. I was asked to share my personal perspectives in this week’s blog, as my attendance represented my first time SYNC’ing.

SYNC 2024
Photo Source: HealthHIV

According to the SYNC 2024 event website the SYNC 2024 theme, “Bringing SYNChronicity to Life: SYNCing the Elements of Life with Health,” reflects aligning the fundamental elements of life — earth, water, air, and fire — with the sphere of HIV, HCV, STIs, Harm Reduction, and LGBTQ health, according to the event website. Its objective was elevating health and harmony, and now I better understand why ADAP Advocacy's CEO, Brandon M. Macsata, advised me that this event was the best national conference for advocates living with HIV/AIDS.

My two primary activities at SYNC were to present data associated with the 9th National Annual Monitoring Report on HIV/HCV Co-Infection and help facilitate a panel discussion regarding Prescription Drug Advisory Boards (PDABs). Both were indelible experiences. I presented data for the National Annual Monitoring Report on behalf of Community Access National Network (CANN) in collaboration with HealthHIV. The presentation informed the audience about current issues surrounding HIV, HCV, and Harm Reduction. The collaboration resulted in an empowering and complimentary dissemination of a great deal of valuable data that was well received by the audience. The PDAB discussion was eye-opening in how a prepared slide presentation by a panel evolves into organic discussions among the panelists and audience, which adds even more value.

The wealth of opportunities for learning, networking, and inspiration at SYNC was almost overwhelming, but in a good way. The first day was filled with very focused institutes of different subjects, some of which even offered opportunities to achieve or renew certifications in things such as PrEP Navigation. The institutes covered critical problems such as HIV Criminalization, Healthy Aging, and Black Women in HIV Prevention. The Annual Monitoring Report, where I presented data, was one of those institutes. 

The remaining days were filled with extensive plenary sessions where all the participants met to learn from experts and even members of government agencies on topics such as the state of government agencies' activities surrounding healthcare delivery, health equity, syndemics, and advocacy. Outside of the large plenary sessions were many different track sessions. Upon choosing your track of interest, you could attend multiple learning sessions on various topics associated with the track. 

Bringing SYNChronicity to Life
Photo Source: HealthHIV

For example, there was an STI track. I attended session One of that track, which included presentations on black women’s sexuality and PrEP, the severe crisis of STIs like syphilis, the importance of rapid point of care (POC) testing and educating providers about effective HIV and STI testing. The speakers in that session included the Vice President of Clinical Operations at Adagio Health and the HIV Clinical Director for Baltimore Medical System, Inc. It was amazing to experience exposure to the perspectives from such varied backgrounds, all in the same room. Most importantly, I feel that they usually would all not be exposed to each other. Not only was it an unmatchable opportunity for learning for the audience, but it was an opportunity for collaboration and learning between their institutions.

Another track session I attended was a part of the LGBTQ Health Track. I decided to participate in that track session as an opportunity to be exposed to subject matter outside of usual knowledge consumption. I frequently read and research topics involving HIV treatments, prevention, and social determinants of health issues. However, I don’t often explore LGBTQ-specific health issues that are unique from the general population. The panels in this session discussed the utilization of social media to reach young men of color for HIV prevention, advocacy for transgender healthcare, and the unique lived experience of Black men who have sex with men (MSMs). 

This session was very enlightening. Until then, I was not aware of the actual number of legislative bills and other efforts nationally being put forth that are directly anti-trans. I had also never heard of GLMA. GLAM was formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association but is now identified as GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality. GLMA presented the anti-trans legislation discussion. It was equally fascinating to learn of community health groups' investments in using social media apps such as Grindr to engage in HIV prevention and education. Notably, at the end of that session, local community groups were educating panelists on ways they could be more effective in their outreach and vice-versa.

Regrettably, I did not end up spending much time perusing the poster presentations that were present. Yet, I still learned a great deal, and the lens through which I view many issues has been widened. One of the most vital themes that encompassed the entire conference is the necessity of health equity and the importance of inclusive representation in health policy as well as in medical treatment and intervention. SYNC is undoubtedly a conference full of meaning and value.

Collage of photos from SYNC 2024
Photo Source: HealthHIV

Disclaimer: Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the ADAP Advocacy Association, but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about public health-related issues and updates.  

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