International AIDS Conference: Cautious Optimism
President and Chief Executive Officer
International AIDS Conference: Cautious Optimism
It was one place where people from all over the world came together with a single-minded purpose.
No, I’m not talking about London and the Olympic games.
I’m referring to Washington, D.C., and the 19th International AIDS Conference (IAC), where I spent much of last week.
The IAC was replete with news and inspiration – from Elton John’s appeal for the end, once and for all, of AIDS stigma, to a report that two more HIV-positive individuals may have been “cured” through bone-marrow transplants.
There was a fair amount of talk as the successes in combating AIDS in Africa were recounted, giving former President George W. Bush much of the credit.
This may have been what prompted Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson to write that Bush’s greatest legacy is the creation of PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
While many of those at the conference certainly couldn’t be called fans of the Bush administration’s body of work, they certainly recognized that millions of lives have been saved by Bush’s initiative to fight AIDS in Africa. Robinson wrote in the Post, “This is a moment for all Americans to be proud of the single best thing George W. Bush did as president.”
Both Clintons addressed the conference, but it was Hillary who set the goal of creating “an AIDS-free generation.” She described this goal as reaching “a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus.”
Clinton said that more of the goal would be for children and teenagers, as they become adults, to be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected than they would be today no matter where they are living. She also called for access to treatment for all those with HIV “that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”
Another topic heard around the conference was about the aging of persons living with HIV/AIDS, with estimates that by 2020 more than half of the HIV population will be over 50. An AP report during the conference stated that “even in developing countries, more people with the AIDS virus are surviving to middle age and beyond.”
Those of you familiar with VillageCare’s AIDS care network know that already of those we serve more than half are over 50 and that we’ve been dealing with the impact of aging on HIV-positive individuals for several years now. We’ve recognized and worked to address the specific problems confronting older adults with HIV, including that they are often beset with aging-related issues much earlier than those issues confront others. We shared what we’ve learned in a conference on AIDS and aging that we sponsored a few years ago.
There was no more evidence of people from all over the world coming together to address the AIDS epidemic than the Global Village, which was an amazing array of 120 booths from 90 countries.
In the Global Village people talked about and debated their ideas about the epidemic, and also displayed artwork and gave dance and music performances, much related to the impact of AIDS on individual lives and nations.
Many from Asia and Africa and developing countries related how they are dealing with AIDS, and there was particular attention paid to the difficulties women face in access to care and treatment.
Sometimes, displays and information presented in the Global Village were heart-rendering, such as how the AIDS epidemic is affecting so many children. The sex workers in the Ukraine, where many have AIDS, was a difficult pavilion to visit, especially with the graphic depictions of the toll that AIDS is taking in the Ukraine.
There were, on the other hand, reasons at the IAC for some optimism.
It was great to see so many people – more than 20,000 – gathered in one place to advocate for AIDS resources.
And it was wonderful to see those with AIDS who are surviving longer and doing well, some as long as 20 years after being infected.
The key to their survival clearly is their access to treatment medications and care, underscoring the final thoughts as the conference closed: We need to provide more treatment, keeping those living with HIV/AIDS healthy and helping curb the spread of the disease.
As former President Bill Clinton, who addressed the closing session, put it: "All of you have created the possibility that we could have an AIDS-free generation. We just have to keep pushing the rocks up the hill."
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