J. Stephen Morrison reflects on his four major impressions from AIDS 2012, including the strong reaffirmation of the United States' commitment to address HIV/AIDS and the international community's quest for an "AIDS Free Generation."
The ‘Summit on the Role of the Christian Faith Community in Global Health and HIV/AIDS’ was held at Georgetown University on Wednesday July 25, squarely in the middle of the week-long International AIDS Conference (IAC). The Summit was one of several vivid expressions during the IAC of the centrality of the faith community to the global response to HIV/AIDS.
Former President Bill Clinton delivered an energizing “call to action” at the closing session of AIDS 2012, encapsulating the high hopes and the sobering challenges facing the fight against global HIV/AIDS. Calling for renewed commitment despite the difficult economic environment, he told the packed conference hall: “If you scale it up and it works, the money will be there to fund it.”
The words ‘AIDS-free Generation’ followed us all week throughout Aids 2012. What does it mean? Clearly the notion of an AIDS-Free Generation within our reach is a powerful one. Is the meaning it inspires powerful enough to attract and keep the attention of national policy makers, already burdened with competing priorities in a tight economic environment? Clever enough to conquer the growing apathy of the American public, who may be eager to move on? Inspirational enough to counter the disbelief of public health professionals, weary from decades of battle? Most of us at the conference certainly hope so, because so many lives depend on it.
Achieving an AIDS-free generation is a chief rallying cry at AIDS 2012 this week in Washington, DC. In the U.S., reaching the goal is not a question of resources, but resolve, according to experts speaking at sessions focused on AIDS in America. Unlike many affected countries, the U.S. can provide treatment to all who need it and fund outreach and education for those vulnerable to infection. But attention to the disease has waned in recent years and the new infection rate has been stubbornly stuck at roughly 50,000 annually for most of the last decade.
A session at the International AIDS Conference entitled “Dynamics of the Epidemic in Context” was a study in contrasts. The first three presentations were a reminder of the similar challenges faced by sex workers, intravenous drug users and MSM (Men who have Sex with Men). Within specific countries, each of these groups has an HIV prevalence that is usually significantly greater than that of the general population of their country. Individuals in these groups are often stigmatized, sometimes including rejection by their own families
Protests at AIDS 2012 continued through the week, following the first organized demonstration on Sunday. Promoting topics ranging from “tax the rich” to “D.C. statehood now,” protesters at the Tuesday “We Can End AIDS” demonstration converged at the White House, where 13 activists were arrested. The following day, a group of protesters promoting sex worker rights interrupted a special session on the role of the U.S. Congress in confronting AIDS that included five current or former members of Congress, three of whom were Republicans.
The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – represent over forty percent of the world’s population and “nearly a quarter of its economic output.” At the same time, as noted by Dr. Motsoaledi, the BRICS contain one-third of the world’s HIV+ individuals. Over the past decades, each nation grappled with national HIV/AIDS epidemics
The many aspirational high-notes hit by speakers throughout AIDS 2012 are nonetheless tempered by some underlying realities. Funding for HIV activities has flat-lined and the health of key funding institutions, especially the Global Fund, is arguably fragile. Additionally, economic growth in Africa may be accompanied by increasing disparities between rich and poor, creating the types of vulnerabilities that drive HIV/AIDS epidemics.
Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham delivered strong messages of bipartisan political support for U.S. engagement on global AIDS in Monday’s plenary session of AIDS 2012. The participation of this senior Senate Democrat and Republican testified to the crucial bipartisan support that has characterized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, since its inception.
In Monday’s celebrity-filled AIDS 2012 plenary session, entitled “Ending the Epidemic: Turning the Tide Together,” much of the technical information came in Dr. Anthony Fauci’s presentation of the epidemiologic and research data that are the basis for the optimistic projections of an “AIDS-free generation” to come.
In a rousing address to the AIDS 2012 conference on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened with “five words we have not be able to say for too long: welcome to the United States!” She then proceeded to dazzle the crowd with her passionate command of the issues and her direct discussion of many of the most fundamental and sensitive issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS response. If this is to be her legacy speech on HIV/AIDS, she will surely have left her mark.