AIDS 2018 off to a start aimed at breaking barriers and building bridges

The largest public health event in the world,IMG-20180724-WA0039 International AIDS Conference – AIDS 2018, is off to an enthusiastic start in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The conference presents the space and opportunities to discuss the progress made and to evaluate the gaps and concerns.  

A number of aspects stand out clearly for this year’s conference. Firstly, the conference has the largest ever participation of younger people, recognizing the importance of the roles youth play and the contributions they can make in the global efforts of controlling the pandemic within their communities and beyond.

In the opening press conference and in the opening ceremony, Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, the conference chair, highlighted the large representation of youth in the 15,000 plus participants of the conference.

Secondly, the gender dynamics is supposed to get greater attention in the conference. The vulnerabilities of adolescent girls and young women to acquire the infection, and to live with the virus amid stigma and discrimination especially in resource poor settings, will draw greater attention. A number of sessions and dialogues will explore challenges around this aspect and possible remedies will be discussed and discovered.

A third and very critical aspect will be to bring up the progress made on the scientific side of the disease and the all-important issue of where will the additional money come for prevention and management of HIV, looking at treatment gaps and other future priorities.

During the opening ceremony, Minister Sigrid Kaag for Development Cooperation, Government of Netherlands, announced an addition funding of 10 million Euros for HIV prevention, especially focusing on PreEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) outside the Netherlands.  She assured the strong support and commitment of Dutch Government or AIDS 2018 and for global HIV prevention and management interventions. More good news on funding and political support is expected.

The progress made on vaccine and cure is always a fascinating area of sharing and discussions at AIDS conferences.  The week ahead will unfold good news, concerns and the path ahead.

Talking of end of AIDS by 2030, the fact that 37 million still live with the virus must be recognized. That 1.8 million new cases reported last year alone, and that only 22 million out of the 37 million infected are on treatment, are significant reminders of challenges that AIDS pandemic still holds with itself.  That 15 million are still waiting for treatment and that infection incidence is still on high rise in East Europe and Central Asia cannot be overlooked.

According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom of WHO, the 2020 targets on HIV prevention and control look ambitious and he emphasizes on exploring new partnerships and the need of a more people centered approach to reach the unreached.

Last but not the least, the conference’ opening ceremony paid an emotional tribute to six Dutch scientists/activists who lost their life on board MH 17 on July 17th, 2014, en route to Melbourne for attending AIDS 2014.  Dr. Peter Reiss, the local co-chair, remembered departed colleagues and their roles in bringing AIDS 2018 to Netherlands, and more importantly for their overall contributions in the fight against HIV.

The conference expects to break the barriers and to build the bridges in yet another gathering of activists, practitioners and scientists working to combat HIV pandemic.  It will be interesting to see what kind of bonds and partnerships will come out from the week.

Prakash Tyagi

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