Activism Takes Center Stage at 2017 IAS Conference on HIV Science

The opening session of the 2017 IAS Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017) saw a call for more science, research and innovation in the fight against HIV. Officials gave speeches about progress and motivation, but activists stole the show.

"We are scientists, but we are also advocates. These labels are not mutually exclusive. And I believe all researchers embody these two roles," said Linda-Gail Bekker, Ph.D., FCP (SA), president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), during her opening remarks.

Bekker called for a moment of silence to remember two people we lost this year who "epitomized the spirit of science and advocacy": HIV activist Prudence Mabele and researcher Mark Wainberg.

Attendees at IAS 2017 remember HIV activist Prudence Mabele (Credit: Warren Tong)
Attendees at IAS 2017 remember HIV activist Prudence Mabele
Warren Tong
Attendees at IAS 2017 remember HIV researcher Mark Wainberg (Credit: Warren Tong)
Attendees at IAS 2017 remember HIV researcher Mark Wainberg
Warren Tong

After this moment of silence, chants of "Act up! Fight back! Fight AIDS!" started filling the auditorium as activists took to the stage in protest.

Watch video of activists interrupting IAS 2017 opening session (around the 8:47 mark):

A female South African activist and friend of Prudence Mabele took over the microphone and delivered a message about the tragedy of losing Prudence despite all the advances in HIV treatment.

"People who say we will end AIDS are not the people on the ground, and they don't have a clue about what is happening," she stated.

"AIDS is not over," she firmly declared, repeating once more, "AIDS is not over."

Activists at the IAS 2017 opening session hold up signs saying, 'Unlock equal access for key populations' and 'Undetectable = Untransmittable' (Credit: Warren Tong)
Activists at the IAS 2017 opening session hold up signs saying, "Unlock equal access for key populations" and "Undetectable = Untransmittable"
Warren Tong

She went on to say that, if Prudence were alive today, she would be saying: "To hell with sitting in this meeting. Shut up! Stop talking! Take action!"

She then asked everybody in the auditorium to stand up and take a pledge against HIV.

Watch video of attendees at IAS 2017 opening session stand for a pledge against HIV (around the 14:30 mark):

"We pledge to work together to do everything we can to strengthen the health system so that it works for all, not just for [the] wealthy and those in wealthy countries," was one of the commitments of the pledge.

IAS 2017 attendees stand for a pledge (Credit: Warren Tong)
IAS 2017 attendees stand for a pledge
Warren Tong

"Love live, Prudence Mabele! Long live, Mark Wainberg!" she shouted, before leaving to loud applause.