J. Stephen Morrison
Senior Vice President & Director, Global Health Policy Center at CSIS
From July 22 to July 27, 2012, Washington, D.C., was host to the International AIDS Conference, the biannual Super Bowl of global health and the preeminent forum for reviewing the science, policy, programs, and politics in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In some respects, the conference was historic before it even began, as it marked the dramatic return of the conference to U.S. soil after a 22-year hiatus. This achievement was made possible because the U.S. legislative travel ban on HIV-positive individuals, in force since 1987, had finally been lifted by President Barack Obama in late 2009.
The Obama administration and others feared that the conference would trigger divisive confrontations, as had happened in San Francisco 1990 during the last conference in the United States, and that the polarized, partisan rancor of the United States’ heated 2012 electoral seasonal would spill into the conference. There was worry that congressional members who were proud of U.S. achievements, but feeling the United States was overcommitted financially, might clash with advocates clamoring for dramatic increases in funding. Yet, despite the oppressive heat of the hottest July in Washington’s history, the atmosphere at the conference was upbeat and the outcomes were impressive.
In the year leading up to the conference, CSIS played the unusual role of assembling a diverse high-level advisory group to assist the lead organizers in navigating the special challenges in the Washington political environment. That group, the American Friends of AIDS 2012, was especially important in enlarging the space for participation by Congressional and faith communities. Please read more on what AIDS 2012 achieved, why the CSIS advisory group was formed, what accounts for its impacts, and what that experience may foretell for future International AIDS Conferences.
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