The XVI International AIDS Conference - attended by more than 24,000 scientists, activists and government officials from 180 countries - ended Friday August 18 with demands for national governments and the international community to mobilize the political will critically needed for progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Over seven days conference speakers exposed the complex mosaic of epidemics - social, economic, political and medical - which feed the global AIDS crisis, calling for the international community to address the disease’s many drivers. The need for scaled-up prevention and increased access to drugs took center stage throughout the week with near universal agreement that appropriate scientific knowledge and adequate means exist to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS; what is less clear however, is the G8’s commitment to funding and national governments’ willingness to exert decisive leadership.
The success of harm reduction strategies, advancements in microbicide development, and the centrality of human rights (and their many violations) all got significant attention throughout the Conference. PMTCT and Harm Reduction were repeatedly sighted as two of the most effective but underutilized tools in the HIV prevention toolbox. Likewise there was significant emphasis on the need for comprehensive HIV/AIDS care including family-wide nutrition supplements and expanded support for orphans.
“ABC” - the Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condomize campaign vigorously supported by the United States came under severe attack spurring demands that donors drop conditions with HIV/AIDS funding. Speakers ranging from the UN’s Stephen Lewis to ActionAids International’s Beatrice Were argued that the ABC strategy ignores on-the-ground realities and fails to address women’s powerlessness in sexual relationships in many countries. Bill and Melinda Gates and Bill Clinton kept women and girls at the forefront, focusing on microbicide development as a means to increase women’s control over their sexual safety.
Throughout the week activists directed delegates attention to the need for generic ARVs whose production is not governed by free-trade agreements, pharmaceutical companies or intellectual property patents.
Greater inclusion of all groups - PLHA, youth, MSM, transgendered peoples and others - at all levels of AIDS programming, as well as continued efforts for diverse regional conference coverage must be given greater attention in the coming years for the most effective prevention, care and treatment programs to be developed.
The conference was undoubtedly a success with critical issues addressed in diverse forums at every level of leadership. The question now is how the international community can sustain momentum built during the conference and create mechanisms for holding governments accountable to funding pledges and the Millennium Development Goals, which promise universal access to prevention and care by 2010.