An historic AIDS Conference

Crucial HIV/AIDS questions face the nation as it prepares for a new election

The housing crisis. The economy. Deficits and spending. War. There are more than enough topics to keep presidential candidates busy this year, but 2012 will be remembered as the year an AIDS conference set the stage for the campaign conventions and the election. How can that be?

For openers, 24,000 people from 183 countries gathered in Washington, D.C., for the XIXth International AIDS Conference (IAC) after a 22-year world boycott, in one of the only bi-partisan achievements of recent U.S. political history.

The HIV travel ban that so tarnished our image originated with North Carolina’s own Jesse Helms, abetted by Ronald Reagan. Although its repeal was proposed by George W. Bush, President Barak Obama and the Democratic Congress of 2009 were the folks who finally made it happen.

President Bush, incidentally, was lauded at this conference for originating PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, that commits millions of dollars toward two conference goals: lifesaving treatment for 15 million Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) worldwide and reducing HIV transmissions in pregnancy from the current annual 330,000 to zero, both by 2015.

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The IAC theme was “Turning The Tide Together” for an “AIDS-Free Generation” as espoused by President Obama’s last World AIDS Day and reiterated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressing the opening plenary. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Laura Bush and Elton John also fortified the conference.

Leaders such as Black AIDS Institute Founder Phill Wilson, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius presented National HIV/AIDS Strategy goals including:

• Reducing new HIV infections by 25 percent; increasing HIV testing for everyone ages 13 to 64.

• Increasing linkage to care for persons newly diagnosed; improving outcomes by maintaining PLWHAs in Ryan White and housing programs.

• Reducing disparities in prevention and care access for gay and bisexual men; achieving undetectable viral loads in Black and Latino patients.

As always, some IAC issues require further work, including;

• Will the U.S. elect a government committed to HIV research, prevention and treatment? There’s already a $7 billion international gap, and domestic dollars have plateaued despite rising case numbers.

• Will stigma attached to HIV/AIDS itself, and to marginalized populations such as sex workers and injection drug users (denied visas to attend), as well as women, MSM, especially youth of color for whom the epidemic has become a catastrophe, and transgender persons, be addressed?

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• Can the spirit of the Global Village, a non-commercial powerhouse of cultural and artistic response to the epidemic be maintained? Was enough respect paid to the AIDS Memorial Quilt, dismissed by some as overemphasizing death?

• Will the U.S. address HIV disparities in southeastern states, fully fund AIDS Assistance Drug Program, implement Obamacare, reinstate explicit sex-ed and reauthorize needle/syringe exchange?

• Will costly new Hepatitis treatments and exotic genetic research foreshadowing a cure and vaccine be financially viable outside the bubble of the conference?

Such challenges affirm the observation of Peter Piot, retired director of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, “AIDS both exposes and exacerbates multiple fault lines of social and economic inequalities and injustice…”

We hope you’ll keep that in mind during the conventions and campaigns and resolve to work and vote for continued progress in the United States and worldwide.

Also, visit aids2012.org, kff.org and AIDSVu.org for full coverage of the XIXth International AIDS Conference, and let’s continue this conversation in coming months. IAC 2014 will be in Melbourne Australia. : :

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