The star studded International AIDS Conference closing ceremony and some reflections
The IAS conference concluded last Friday after an exhausting but fascinating week of presentations, meetings, networking and, dare I say it, information overload! It was exactly the same scenario for the nearly ten other IAS conferences I have been to in the past. The conferences are chaotic, draining, informative and very good for networking, but beyond that hard to measure in terms of lasting impact. Yet many of us keep going back to them. They are addictive. I found myself concluding one of the sessions I was moderating by telling participants that I was looking forward to seeing them in Melbourne in 2014. One of my friends said that the addictive nature of the conference is like childbirth – and you forget very quickly how painful the last experience was! I told her it was hard for me to relate to this, since I have never had the privilege. All I know is months ago, I promised myself the DC conference would be my last – but even I find that hard to believe.
Anyway, the conference ended with the usual fanfare, with celebrity figures addressing various sessions as well as the formal closing ceremony. One of the people who spoke at a session on the intersection between tuberculosis (TB) and HIV in children was the actress Whoopi Goldberg. As a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, she stressed the need to prevent TB among children as it is still the number one killer of those living with HIV. At times she seemed like she was unsure of what she was presenting, but she has been an advocate for people living with HIV for a long time and delegates at the conference just seemed happy that she had made the effort to be there.
Dr. Elly Katabira from Uganda, the now previous President and co-chair of the IAS 2012, announced that more than 24,000 delegates had turned up at the conference in DC making it the biggest IAS conference ever. He handed over the Presidency for the IAS to Dr. Francoise Barre – Sinoussi, a French noble laureate who was responsible for the discovery of HIV.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi also addressed the conference sharing how she had announced that she was going to fight AIDS early on in her term in Congress and had met with some resistance. She also told us how she has been personally touched by HIV through a relative who was a bridesmaid at her wedding.
The keynote speaker for the closing ceremony was former US President Bill Clinton who called for more funding as well as transparency from everyone, including NGOs, to make sure that the money dedicated to HIV was going where it was supposed to go. Thanks to the kindness of some friends in high places, I also managed to get my hands on a seat in a VIP area with the best view of all the celebrity speakers.
So what were some of the take away messages from this particular AIDS conference?
Firstly it is clear that, although we may not have the vaccine or cure for HIV, the tools we have already are enough to manage HIV if used properly and effectively – if all those who need treatment get it, there should be no new HIV infections.
Young people living with HIV are making their mark, with a new generation of enthusiastic activists who were more visible at this conference than ever before. They are using the many new technologies available to become leaders and peer educators in their communities.
Finally, even though the global economy continues to exist in a state of depression and uncertainty, there are a lot of people who are still committed to funding HIV initiatives as long as they are integrated into broader health in order to make a bigger impact beyond HIV.
For some of us, working on HIV will always remain a priority not an option – no matter what. The fight continues.Tagged in: AIDS, Bill Clinton, health, HIV, International AIDS Conference, Nancy Pelosi, tuberculosis, UNICEF, Whoopi Goldberg
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