International AIDS Conference 2014

Posted on . in Blog Posts, HIV/AIDS

This is a guest post written by Jason Wright, U.S. Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, a GHC Board Member, and a Global Fund Developed Country NGO Board delegation member. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is an alliance of 40 nationally based, independent civil society organisations (Linking Organisations), six Technical Support Hubs, and an international Secretariat that are dedicated to ending AIDS through community action.

"20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), Melbourne, Australia."

20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014). Photo credit: International AIDS Society/Steve Forrest

The week of the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) in Melbourne, Australia started off on a somber note. As many conference participants arrived on July 18 (Friday), we discovered that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 had crashed in Ukraine. The passengers on the flight included six of our HIV/AIDS colleagues:

The loss of Martine and Pim was especially difficult for my International HIV/AIDS Alliance. We have a global partnership — the Stop AIDS Alliance — with the Dutch HIV/AIDS NGO consortium STOP AIDS NOW!, and work closely with Aids Fonds. We worked closely with Martine on key populations programming under the Bridging the Gaps program and Pim on parliamentary advocacy.

In the opening session of the conference, there was a fitting tribute to our six colleagues. Conference Co-Chairs Françoise Barré-Sinnoussi and Sharon Lewin called to the stage representatives of our six colleagues’ organizations for a minute of silence. Also in the opening session, Management Sciences for Health (MSH) President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Global Health Council (GHC) Board Chair Jonathan (Jono) Quick introduced the Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture co-sponsored by GHC.

The death of Joep, another giant in the field of HIV/AIDS, tragically parallels that of Jonathan in the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 off the coast of Newfoundland in 1998. Jono quoted Jonathan’s daughter Lydia, “[My father] would be so happy and proud of what, in the 15 years since his death, this community has achieved by working together.  He would also share his disappointment at how much more is left to be done.” Jono stated, “Jonathan Mann fought vigorously for the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the stigmatized.  By making AIDS — and with it health — a human rights issue, Jonathan Mann inspired a generation of activists… but his mission is not finished.”

Retired Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby delivered the lecture.

Jono stated that through Justice Kirby’s roles on international commissions on HIV/AIDS, the law, and human rights including the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Justice Kirby “has lived the principles that Jonathan Mann stood for:  human rights, dignity for all, and the courage to speak out and take action to defend these principles.”

Justice Kirby imparted six vital lessons, many around the AIDS paradox taught by Jonathan Mann. He stated, “Paradoxically, and almost counter-intuitively, the best way in current circumstances to get people to testing and to reduce the toll of death and suffering is not by punishing and isolating those infected with HIV.  It is actually by protecting them.”

Also in the opening session, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé called for the end of AIDS by 2030. He laid out the ambitious target of 90-90-90:

  • 90% of people tested
  • 90% of people living with HIV on treatment
  • 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads

Michel described the target as “a moral and economic imperative … [which] will keep people living with HIV alive and healthy, protect future generations from infection, provide economic value over the long term and drive the AIDS epidemic into history.” He stressed that the target must be achieved across all countries and all populations. Michel concluded, “Our challenge boils down to one painful truth:  too many are being left behind today.  If the world wants stability, peace and sustainable development, we cannot run away from the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, prisoners, migrants, women and girls, and people with disabilities.” To meet the needs of all populations including these key populations, we will have to increase our human rights focus and finish the mission of Jonathan Mann — and Joep Lange.

Participants come out of this conference saddened by our collective loss but together rededicated to ending AIDS.

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