What a week! AIDS 2012, the International AIDS Conference (IAC), was held in Washington, D.C. July 23-27, 2012. The week marked the return of the IAC to the United States after 22 years, following the official lifting in 2010 of the shameful law and policy barring HIV positive individuals' entry to the U.S. The last IAC in the U.S. was held in San Francisco in 1990. (Historical trivia: the 1992 conference originally was set to be held in Boston, with Harvard University as a lead organizer, but was moved to Amsterdam because of the U.S entry ban. Harvard continued its role; hence the 1992 conference unofficially was called "the Boston conference held in Amsterdam.")
As reported by the Conference Secretariat, 23,767 people participated in AIDS 2012, including nearly 19,000 conference delegates (1,900 of whom were media delegates). 183 countries were represented, with 51% of total participants from the U.S. The Global Village, which was open to the public, held 265 official activities.
With over 200 sessions and 3,837 abstracts accepted, it's impossible to summarize the overwhelming conference in one report. Any summary is also bound to be more than a bit subjective. With that being said, highlights from this delegate's perspective included:
- The message that we are at a point where an AIDS-free generation is a real, achievable goal. Finally, 31 years into the epidemic, we have a critical mass of scientific knowledge and evidence-based experience at hand to end the epidemic. The key question moving forward is whether we will utilize this knowledge and experience and mobilize the needed resources and political will to end the epidemic.
- A cure for HIV has returned as a substantive, and not just symbolic, agenda item.
- A sense of unity exists between the domestic epidemic in the United States and the worldwide epidemic.
- The social determinants and other structural factors that continue to drive the epidemic and impact health must be addressed. This includes continuing to approach HIV/AIDS from human rights and social justice perspectives.
- The "We Can End AIDS" Mobilization for Economic Justice and Human Rights, which was held on Tuesday of the conference week.
- Release of results from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN)'s study (HPTN 061, "The BROTHERS Study") regarding black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in six U.S. cities. Included in the alarming and disturbing findings are: the rate of new HIV infections was 2.8% per year among study participants and the HIV incidence rate was 5.9% per year among participants 30 years and younger.
Although the many sessions, speeches, posters, networking opportunities, and receptions are over, IAC has sparked a sense of real promise and optimism that will hopefully continue as the very real challenges of ending the epidemic are faced in the months ahead. AIDS United will stay engaged and work to keep all of you engaged. We can win this!!!
Below are websites with more information on AIDS 2012 and summaries of the conference:
Kaiser Global Health
aidsmap.com (scientific reporting)
Former President Bill Clinton's Speech at the Closing Ceremony Webcast
AIDS United's Presence at IAC
The Washington Post's "AIDS In America" Forum Webcast
Blog Post on the Congressional "Thank You" Reception sponsored by AIDS United and the Human Rights Campaign
Summary of HPTN 061 Results