- Category: HIV Policy & Advocacy
- Published on Friday, 20 July 2012 00:00
- Written by Liz Highleyman
The 19th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) will kick of this Sunday, July 22, in Washington, DC. The meeting and its associated events are expected to bring together more than 25,000 researchers, clinicians and other service providers, policy-makers, activists, journalists, and people living with HIV to take stock of the epidemic at a juncture many are calling the "beginning of the end of AIDS."
This year's theme, Turning the Tide, reflects a prevailing sense of optimism thanks to progress in the areas of prevention and treatment.
"A series of scientific breakthroughs, including several trials showing the partial efficacy of oral and topical chemoprophylaxisand the first evidence of efficacy for an HIV vaccine candidate, have the potential to markedly expand the available preventive tools," wrote AIDS 2012 co-chair Diane Havlir and Chris Breyer in the July 18, 2012, New England Journal of Medicine.
"There is evidence of the first cure of an HIV-infected person," they continued. "And most important, the finding that early initiation of antiretroviral therapy can both improve individual patient outcomes and reduce the risk of HIV transmission to sexual partners by 96% has led many to assert what had so long seemed impossible: that control of the HIV pandemic may be achievable."
The largest international meeting of its kind, AIDS 2012 will feature both a full slate of scientific sessions and a Global Village for community-based groups. The conference is being held in the US for the first time since 1990, as Obama lifted the ban on HIV positive visitors in 2009. But activists have decried the fact that some groups heavily affected by HIV/AIDS -- including sex workers and injection drug users -- are still excluded.
Numerous celebrities, political leaders, and dignitaries will take part in the meeting, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Elton John, and Whoopi Goldberg. Obama, however, indicated that he would give a video welcome and host a private event for conference attendees at the White House instead of attending in person.
Associated events are already underway, including the International AIDS Society (IAS) "Towards an HIV Cure" pre-conference symposium and the Global Forum on MSM & HIV's 5th biennial pre-conference.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display at the National Mall and elsewhere throughout the city during the week of the conference. On Tuesday, the large We Can End AIDS march will demand awareness of and resources for the epidemic at home and abroad, including support for a "Robin Hood Tax" on financial transactions.
Many organizations take the opportunity of the conference to issue statements, release reports, and launch new initiatives.
The Washington Declaration, announced July 17 by the IAS and the University of California at San Francisco, offers a 9-point action plan for turning the tide on the epidemic:
- An increase in targeted new investments;
- Evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need;
- An end to stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions and human rights abuses against those living with and at risk for HIV;
- Marked increases in HIV testing, counseling and linkages to services; Treatment for all pregnant and nursing women living with HIV and an end to peri-natal transmission;
- Expanded access to antiretroviral treatment for all in need;
- Identification, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB);
- Accelerated research on new tools for HIV prevention, treatment, vaccines and a cure;
- Mobilization and meaningful involvement of affected communities.
"In a scenario unthinkable just a few years ago we now have the knowledge to begin to end AIDS I our lifetimes," said IAS president and AIDS 2012 International Chair Ely Katabira. "Yet, at this moment of extraordinary scientific progress and potential, the global response to AIDS faces crippling financial challenges that threaten past success and future progress."
UNAIDS issued a new report this week entitled Together We Will End AIDS. The report contains the latest numbers of new HIV infections, people receiving antiretroviral treatment, AIDS-related deaths, and HIV among children. An estimated 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2010, down 20% since 2001. More than 8 million people worldwide were receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2011 -- up from 6.6 million in 2010 -- but that represents just over half of the number eligible for treatment.
The report also highlights new scientific opportunities and social progress, and gives an overview of international and domestic HIV investments.UNAIDS director Michel Sidibé said that despite the global economic crisis, domestic spending on HIV/AIDS in the developing world had increased sharply -- to $8.6 billion -- and now exceeds the international total of $8.2 million. However, he added, there is still a large shortfall between available resources and need.
The AIDS 2012 conference program is available online. Many key sessions will be webcast by Kaiser Family Foundation, and abstracts will be posted as they are presented. Follow news on Twitter with hashtag #AIDS2012.
D Havlir and C Breyer. The Beginning of the End of AIDS? New England Journal of Medicine. July 18, 2012 (Epub ahead of print).
UNAIDS. More than 80 Countries Increase Their Domestic Investments for AIDS by over 50% between 2006 and 2011. Press release. July 18, 2012.
International AIDS Society and UCSF. Washington, D.C. Declaration Calls for Renewed Global Urgency To Turn the Tide on HIV and End the AIDS Epidemic. Press release. July 10, 2012.
Global Forum on MSM & HIV. Current State of Global HIV Epidemic and Response among Gay Men and Transgender People Focus of Upcoming AIDS 2012 Pre-Conference Event. Press release. July 16, 2012.
We Can End AIDS. March For A Financial Transaction Tax Part Of “We Can End AIDS” Day of Action During International AIDS Conference; Dramatic Civil Disobedience Planned Outside White House. Press release. July 17, 2012.