The 21st International AIDS Conference which took place on July 18-22, 2016, is the largest conference on any global health or development issue globally.
First convened during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, this conference continues to provide a unique forum for the intersection of science and advocacy, and an opportunity to strengthen policies and programmes to ensure an evidence-based response to the epidemic. The conference also serves as a focal point to intensify political and financial commitments to AIDS.
Many of the burning issues on HIV/AIDS discussed at the conference, which was back in Africa after 16 years, have significantly moved on from the dark years of AIDS denialism during the Thabo Mbeki presidency.
Below are some of the highlights of the conference:
- South Africa’s Progress over the past 16 years, since the conference was last held in Durban in 2000. It has put 3.4 million people on treatment, funded by the South African government itself, reduced cost of ARVs reduced and mother-to-child transmission by 85%, from 90,000 to about 5,000 per year, among other achievements.
- Lack of progress on prevention: Worldwide, the reduction of new infections across the world has stalled at about 2 million annually.
- The role of key populations
- High infection rates in young girls: A disturbing trend was reported in South Africa and a few other African countries- a cycle of HIV transmission driven by high rates of new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women, from men who were on average eight years older.
- The role of stigma, especially self-stigma, in driving the epidemic by Justice Edwin Cameron
- TB and HIV co-infection: 3 approaches that countries should vigorously implement:
- Find the TB Cases- and treat them with TB drugs and ART (if HIV positive).
- Find those at risk of TB –Treat them with ART and TB preventative therapy (IPT).
- Integrate TB and HIV services that deliver this care into a Universal Public Health approach.
Patients with either HIV or TB are prevented from getting the maximum benefits of treatment if one is managed separately from the other.
- Nigerian researchers thrive despite the absence of Nigerian research: Amara Ezeamama was one of six recipients of the 2016 prize for Collaborative Initiative for Paediatric HIV Research for a study in Uganda.
- The critical role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs): The role of advocacy in the continued fight against HIV.
- The Global Fund: Global Fund representatives at some of the sessions maintained that the goal was to raise $13 billion in the next round of the Fund, which will contribute to the overall funding for the HIV response.
- Addressing Pediatric HIV: It is estimated that around 1.5 million women living with HIV become pregnant each year. Without access to ARV treatment, up to 40% of babies born to these mothers will also get HIV. Nigeria has the highest burden of this in the world, with 60,000 new babies born HIV positive, every year.
Though the event clarified for researchers, advocates, policy makers and funders just how far we have come in this 35-year battle against a common, deadly, non-discriminatory enemy, more work still needs to be done before 2030 which is the goal to end AIDS as a public health problem.