Tuesday, August 5, 2008


(From the official press release of AIDS 2008)
5 August 2008 - The International AIDS Conference is convened every other year by the International AIDS Society (IAS), the world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals with more than 10,000 members from 172 countries. International institutional partners for AIDS 2008 include: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and its co-sponsors, the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP); International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO); Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+) / International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW); World YWCA; and the Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN). This year’ conference is hosted by Mexico City and runs from 3rd to 8th August.

The Conference (AIDS 2008) began with an assessment of the state of the global epidemic as a panel of researchers, public health and civil society leaders examined recent progress toward the scale up of treatment and prevention programs, and called for sustained action to eliminate the barriers to universal access. Progress has doubtless been made in getting universal access but the targets are still a long way off. It is necessary for all nations to live up to their commitments.

“With only two years to go until the 2010 deadline for universal access set by world leaders, we must redouble our commitment to scaling up all proven HIV prevention strategies,” said Dr. Luís Soto Ramírez, Local Co-Chair of AIDS 2008 and Coordinator of the Clinical Care Committee of Mexico’s National AIDS Council.

On Monday, the conference’s opening plenary featured presentations by leading global experts on epidemiological aspects of the epidemic, recent advancements and challenges.

Dr. Geoffrey Garnett (United Kingdom) noted the need for new methods of analyzing HIV prevalence and risks of infection which can help targeted prevention strategies. Regarding the analyses of risk behavior, he illustrated the importance of including social and structural determinants of HIV risk, along with behavioral and biological risk factors. According to Garnett, the powerful synergy of awareness and single effective interventions such as male circumcision could dramatically reduce HIV prevalence rates and facilitate the greater impact of other interventions altering the future spread of HIV.

In another intervention, Dr. Jaime Sepulveda (Mexico) noted that attention to and resources for AIDS are at all-time highs, but the world has only scratched the surface of possibilities in responding to the epidemic. Greater resources, more effectively spent and targeted where they can have the greatest effect, would have a dramatic impact on the epidemic’s course. Sepulveda called for radically increased investments in prevention research, evaluation, and delivery of services, as well as accelerated research on promising prevention methods, including a vaccine.

Sepulveda’s views were reiterated by Alex Coutinho (Uganda), who called for greater political leadership from all countries and accountability at all levels as essential for stopping the epidemic. Citing the results in both treatment and prevention scale up in countries with sustained leadership, such as Rwanda and Tanzania, he made a passionate call for dynamic leadership as a path toward meeting the challenges ahead. He also urged outreach to and support of marginalized and at-risk communities, as well as the greater involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) as a catalyst for change.

Elisabet Fadul (Dominican Republic) outlined a broad and urgent youth HIV/AIDS agenda, with comprehensive rights-based and evidence-based plans to provide access for young people. Highlighting the data that young people (15-24 years of age) account for 40% of new infections worldwide, she noted that HIV prevention and treatment programs are failing to effectively reach young people. The most vulnerable and marginalized are stigmatized, criminalized or forgotten by many of these programs. To reverse this course, she called for actions and policies that engage youth, especially young PLHIV, as respected partners in developing and implementing programs that address their needs and diversity.

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