“We’re all in this together,” said Ace Robinson, MPH, the new director of community engagement at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
Robinson, an international HIV/AIDS policy, program and advocacy specialist with experience in HIV research at home and across Africa, recently joined the foundation to provide leadership for community-facing programs including BBE, DREAAM, Latino Programs, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, Bridgemen and TransLife.
To bring these programs together as they work in harmony to address challenges that the community faces to achieve excellent HIV care and prevention. “We can’t completely segment our populations. We have to look at our community as a whole, without compartmentalizing people.”
Early in his career, fascinated by the virology of HIV, Robinson studied biochemistry and conducted basic science research on HIV vaccines through the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. While conducting research in Senegal, troubled by the larger social conditions that fostered HIV infection, he moved to study international HIV public health issues in South Africa. His interest in the social factors that influence health outcomes motivated him to complete a master’s in public health in Cape Town, South Africa, a city dramatically affected by HIV. Most recently, he played an integral role in helping to get the medical use of Truvada as PrEP approved in South Africa.
In addition to his work at the foundation, Robinson continues in the role of HIV advocate—working to ensure that people have the knowledge, resources and support they need to live healthy lives.
He writes a Huffington Post blog, where he writes about deeply personal experiences from his own life related to relationships, sex, stigma and HIV. His most recent contribution, “HIV Loses. Love Wins. Again.,” delved into the tricky situations presented by serodiscordant relationships at a time before PrEP and scientific consensus about treatment as prevention.
“I have a desire to share what can be done—when you’re fully aware of all the options available to you—to care for yourself. I’m motivated because I want everyone to know how to live a healthy life, so they can make appropriate choices that work in their own lives,” said Robinson.
After many years of working to “turn off the tap,” or stop the rising tide of new HIV infections, Robinson is reinvigorated by the many new biomedical prevention options being tested and used, such as PrEP and treatment as prevention.
“We’re in an HIV prevention revolution,” he said. “We have all these tools in the HIV care toolbox in addition to condoms and lube. People can reach in, they can grab what works for them, and have healthy sexual lives. And it’s exciting that we have all these different forms of prevention, especially ones that give power to the receptive partner.”
Power, or lack of it, is something he saw first-hand during his research with sex workers in Senegal. Some of the support they provided to study participants was to facilitate female empowerment.
“HIV has always been a human rights issue,” he said. “Every person on this planet has had to overcome stigma or barriers of some sort to achieve goals. When you look at HIV, you can see how what we call social determinants of health—whether that be race, socioeconomic condition, gender or something else—can influence health.”
Now he says we know what work we need to do to end AIDS, but what’s left is to “thread the needle.” Access to culturally-appropriate education, health care and other supportive resources in a way that treats people with dignity and respect will help turn the tide. He believes that San Francisco will be the city to do it.
The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.
Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.