Update from Melbourne - Day 1 and 2

  • HIV Scotland team members George Valiotis and Aidan Collins have been sending updates about what they're seeing and hearing at the AIDS 2014 international conference in Melbourne. This update is from George, giving an overview of the first two days of the conference from his perspective.

"Some 12,000 participants from over 200 countries around the world have gathered in Melbourne for the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), under the theme Stepping up the Pace.

"Before the official start of the conference you could select from dozens of pre-conferences. At any one time there are at least a dozen major events taking place starting from 7AM until the late hours of night.

HIV and the law - a preconference

"I spent Sunday at a preconference on HIV Justice, Beyond Blame. This was the largest such preconference ever held with hundreds of activists and policy makers from around the world.

"HIV related prosecutions have been a core focus of the policy work of HIV Scotland for many years now and we've lobbying work has seen many good reforms, especially the prosecutions guidelines for the Crown Office - the work of which we'll be presenting at the conference. However there is still a lot of work that need to be done to address human rights inequalities for sex workers and injecting drug users so that their access to health services and tools are no longer compromised.

"Edwin Bernard from the Justice Network gave the clear reminder that "We know criminalisation has no effect on infection rates", and the attendees explored what can be done to change legal and policy approaches that infringe human rights. This work is also a reminder that internal stigma is not a pathology people living with HIV automatically have, but a response to the ongoing discrimination that they face.

"We heard from Michael Kirby former high court judge in Australia, who was very clear on the need to address homophobic laws that violate fundamental human rights and place people at higher risk of HIV."

Opening Ceremony

"The Opening Ceremony included a welcome to the country by indigenous women and a welcome to the conference by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Sharon Lewin, AIDS 2014 Co-Chairs. Australian Denis Napthine, Premier of Victoria welcomed delegates to Melbourne and Ayu Oktariani from Indonesia gave a community welcome.

"Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director gave an inspiring speech: "Today I am calling to end AIDS by 2030." and described UNAIDS' new goal of 90% tested, 90% treated, 90% undetectable to drive HIV/AIDS into the history books.

"Michael Kirby gave the Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture stating that law and policy must be made part of the solution, not part of the problem - alluding to laws and policies that criminalise homosexuality, sex work and drug use.

Key sessions on Monday

"Monday morning sessions have included a comprehensive overview of where we are currently at globally. Salim Abdool Karim explained that Epidemic Control is what we really mean when we say 'end of AIDS' since at present there is no cure or vaccine, and that globally only 45% of people living with HIV have had their HIV diagnosed.

"Lydia Mungherera, a doctor from Uganda and a person living with HIV called for people living with HIV to be at the centre and that must include dedicated leadership roles at a global level.

"A lunchtime session on the future of HIV research shed some light on one of the most awaited topics of the conference which is updates on the baby known as the 'Mississippi Baby', who for the last few years was considered to have been cured of HIV but after several years of no treatment and no viral load was this month reported to have had a re-emergence of HIV. This late breaking news has become a key discussion point for attendees and late-breaking sessions are expected to be announced to hear more on this.

"An afternoon session on how we can make health systems for HIV work better is currently underway, the most noteworthy topic so far being, how can we make stigma reduction an explicit component of quality? Laura Nylblade from the US stated that we must include stigma indicators in quality assessments and in quality improvement processes when reviewing and designing services.

"There's already been a great deal covered, but there's a great deal more to come."

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Follow George on Twitter for real-time updates, and read more of his updates and about HIV Scotland and AIDS 2014.