AIDS 2012: turning the tide?

July 31, 2012

Posted by Javier Hourcade Bellocq

Regional Representative: Latin America and the Caribbean Team

As I write, the delegates are leaving the conference centre, their hotels and the city following an exhausting week at the XIXth International AIDS Conference.

So what happened at the conference? In actual fact, it might be more appropriate to talk of what did not happen! Nonetheless, we feel it worthwhile to briefly recap some of the more salient issues. The ‘star’ of the conference was treatment as prevention. Clinical studies into this prevention approach are producing ever more results: nothing objectively overwhelming, and low percentages for a strategy that is being seriously questioned by some key populations and by those who may have to finance this costly intervention.

Conclusion: nothing new, an integrated approach to prevention is the way forward. If, in the future, there is more evidence and support for the use of antiretrovirals (ARVs) as pre-exposure prophylaxis, this will need to be used alongside traditional methods. For now, the pharmaceuticals industry remains ‘champing at the bit’ but waiting nonetheless.

It was a conference in which there was much talk of key populations: transgender people, sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and people who inject drugs. Many of these people were unable to enter the country and so they met up to watch the conference on television. Others did manage to get here and they contributed to three excellent plenary sessions on Thursday, the social, scientific and, as usual, Global Village sessions.

Living with HIV long-term was another central theme, with the presentation of new studies on the recurrence of different illnesses unrelated to HIV in people living with the virus as they grow older, following many years of treatment. This issue is undoubtedly very interesting and one in which people living with HIV still do not participate.

There seems to be some optimism with regard to vaccine development, based on a series of promising protocols that have broken barriers with regard to the neutralization of antibodies such as, for example, the study on the efficacy of the Thai vaccine, RV144. New therapies were presented along with new data on managing combination therapies.

There was much talk of financing, and of the financing framework promoted by UNAIDS, but little of the Global Fund. Everything that needs to be done to bring this epidemic to an end – both old and new – requires funding but there was little opportunity at this event to have a serious conversation aimed at moving this agenda forward.

To see the daily updates from the Conference, click here.

The Geneva Principle

The World AIDS Conference held in Geneva in 1998 established the so-called ‘Geneva Principle’. This refers to the need to bring the scientific world and the community together, scientists alongside activists, on the understanding that the response to AIDS will not be a purely biomedical one and that there is a need to ensure more dialogue and cross-fertilization.

Civil society representatives were thus included on all the conference committees and vice versa. Plenary and oral sessions were held that covered the response from both science and civil society in an integral manner. The Global Village was included within the conference centre along with other interventions. This principle remains in force but it is being lost both in practice and in spirit.

More than ever before, there were two parallel conferences: the scientific one on the second floor and that of the social sciences, human rights, activism, key populations and the Global Village on the floor below. This was not down to the organisers: there was a wide diversity of scientific sessions on the sexual health of key populations, new treatments for people living with HIV, treatment as prevention and other technologies for reducing transmission.

Most of our colleagues, however, spent too much time on the floor below and I think that we thus lost a great opportunity to gain up-to-date information, to learn and to offer our perspective. There is much about the international conferences that needs to change.

Corresponsales Clave at AIDS 2012

This article brings the Corresponsales Clave team’s direct coverage of the event to a close although we shall continue to publish a few more articles over the coming days that we were unable to publish earlier. The conference was covered by one journalist dedicated exclusively to the event (Diego Mora), a number of journalists who attended the conference in a personal capacity but who contributed articles (Mirta Ruiz Díaz and Mariana Isasi), Cecilia Dávila who was responsible for the editing in Buenos Aires, and myself.

We have done everything humanly possible to provide you with an overview of all of the events of the past five days, including some of the fringe events. When choosing which sessions to write about, we at Corresponsales Clave drew on our years of work, our hundreds of articles and your feedback to ensure that we provided the information that was of most importance to the region.

We have lost count of the number of people who have come up to us over the past few days to thank us for our articles and to suggest further issues to cover; we have been greatly touched by this. If we have been able to help those colleagues unable to attend the conference to feel a little closer to Washington, and if we have channeled the different sectors’ messages to the decision makers, then we have done what we set out to do. We have published a total of 33 articles on the event thus far and our readership over the past week has totalled 1,661 people.

Thanks to the Corresponsales team and to all those who agreed to be interviewed.

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