The International AIDS Conference is always a significant event for all of us at JSI, World Education and Bantwana who have dedicated their work to addressing the HIV epidemic. Through the course of the weeklong conference, we have the opportunity to catch up with colleagues, meet new colleagues, share our excellent work in a global setting, and learn about what others are doing. Ultimately, everyone at the meeting—people living with HIV, government officials, community organizations, medical providers and the private sector are committed to one goal—an AIDS free generation. This means “getting to zero”: No new infections, no deaths, and no stigma. As we do for each International AIDS Conference, my colleagues and I at JSI, World Education and Bantwana have been preparing for months: writing abstracts, compiling our posters and presentations, and planning satellite sessions.
Every two years we arrive at the International AIDS Conference full of determination and optimism. I for one always find my energy level flagging at this point and count on the Conference to re-energize me. But this year, it feels different. This is an extremely significant year, as it is the first time in nearly two decades that the conference has been able to be held in the United States. The conference was last held in the US in 1990. Shortly after that San Francisco conference the US government instituted a policy which prohibited people living with HIV from entering the United States. As a result of the policy, the conference was held outside of the US for the next 20 years. However, in January 2010, the rules changed, and living with HIV is no longer a factor in determining a person’s ability to enter the US. This policy change was crucial to bringing the conference back to the US in 2012.
We know that the AIDS 2012 conference will draw particular attention to the domestic response to the epidemic. While there has been tremendous success, challenges remain. Domestically, the rate of new infections has remained constant for years at about 50,000 annually. Men who have sex with men and engage in high risk sexual activities still represent the greatest number of new infections. The majority of new infections take place in the African-American community. It is estimated that as many as a third of people living with HIV don’t know their status. Stigma and discrimination are still powerful barriers, both to learning your status and living life with HIV. While there has been significant improved access to drugs in the past months, there are still thousands of people who have tested positive who can’t get access to antiretroviral drugs in some parts of the country. We look forward to engaging in important discussions about the response to HIV in the US and globally, sharing our experiences and learning how lessons learned can be adapted based on community needs.
Please continue to follow The Pump for updates from me and other JSI, World Ed and Bantwana staff members attending the conference!