RALEIGH, N.C. — Patients, healthcare providers, community leaders and advocates continued their advocacy online on June 10 for HIV Virtually Speaks on Jones Street 2020, the annual statewide HIV and hepatitis advocacy day. The event is traditionally held at the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, but transitioned to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. HIV Virtually Speaks on Jones Street 2020 served as an opportunity for advocates to raise awareness and educate North Carolina legislators about policies that improve the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS. The event was hosted by the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. The Crape Myrtle Festival was the presenting sponsor of for this year’s advocacy day.
“HIV Speaks on Jones Street is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Lee Storrow, executive director of NC AIDS Action Network. “Even though we were online and not in person, there was a dynamic energy amongst the advocates assembled from across North Carolina.”
Advocates gathered online in the morning for a legislative briefing and training on various issues impacting people living with HIV and hepatitis.
Following the morning briefing and training, advocates spent the day virtually meeting with policymakers on both the state and local levels. Jacquelyn Clymore, the state HIV/STD/viral hepatitis director, shared updates from the state on their work in the time of COVID-19 and on their plans moving forward. Sen. Jeff Jackson and Carrboro Town Council Member Damon Seils, were a few of the policymakers who heard stories from advocates and engaged in powerful conversations on issues important to the community.
During the legislative meetings, advocates urged their legislators to support HIV-related legislative priorities for the year, such as defending the HIV Medication Assistance Program, supporting syringe exchange programs and closing the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid in the state.
Nearly half of people living with HIV in the U.S. reside in the South, while the South also had the highest rates of both new HIV diagnoses and HIV-related deaths in the country. North Carolina is among the 10 U.S. states with the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses and HIV-related deaths. Advocates are hopeful that the conversations started during HIV Virtually Speaks on Jones Street 2020 will provide an opportunity for the HIV and hepatitis communities to play a critical and active role in shaping policy impacting the people living with HIV and hepatitis in North Carolina, the organization shared.