AIDS 2012: Turning the Tide Together – AMREF was there!
Leaders from the worlds of science, philanthropy, entertainment, diplomacy and politics gathered last week for the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. This was the first time since 1990 that the Conference was held in the United States, as President Barack Obama lifted a 22-year-old travel ban preventing HIV-positive people from entering the country. The bi-annual conference, held in a different location each year, is attended by over 20,000 people from all over the world. This year, almost 24,000 people from 183 countries registered.
The diversity of attendees was broad – from individuals, to small nonprofits to large pharmaceutical companies. Featured speakers included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Sir Elton John, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, to name just a few. The theme of the conference was “Turning the Tide Together” a reference to the idea that now is not the time for retreat, but that real progress can be made towards ending the AIDS epidemic. As International AIDS Society co-chair, Dr. Diane Havlir said in the opening ceremony:
“We are at a defining moment; it would be an extraordinary failure of global will and conscience if financial restraints truncated our ability to end AIDS just when the science has shown us that this goal is achievable”.
Former US President Bill Clinton pointed out that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 5.2 million of the 15 million people with HIV globally received treatment at the end of 2009. “There is no excuse for failing to provide treatment for the remaining 10 million people in need,” he said.
Earlier in the week, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had announced that the US government would give $157 million towards efforts to achieve “an AIDS-free generation”, including US$80 million for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The mayor of Washington DC, Vincent Gray, had demonstrated that this goal is possible during his welcome address when he told participants that no baby had been born with HIV in the city since 2009 as a result of concerted efforts to fight HIV.
The highlight of AMREF’s presence at the conference was our role as experts and leaders in the field. Each day began with a daily plenary session featuring some of the world’s most distinguished HIV scientists, policy specialists and community leaders. The morning sessions brought together all conference delegates and set the tone for discussions during the day. AMREF’s Director General, Dr. Teguest Guerma was honored by the opportunity to chair the final daily plenary session “TB and HIV: Science and Implementation to Turn the Tide”.
AMREF Director General Dr. Teguest Guerma chairs a plenary session at the conference
AMREF’s participation at the conference also included an oral presentation by Research Lead, Josephat Nyagero, on “Behavior Change and Associated Factors among Female Sex Workers in Kenya”, and several poster presentations made by Nyagero and AMREF HIV/AIDS and TB Program Lead Dr. Abebe Aberra. AMREF Kenya Country Director Dr. Lenny Bazira Kyomuhangi, AMREF USA CEO Lisa Meadowcroft and US Board Chair Carol Jenkins also attended.
Hundreds of delegates visited AMREF’s booth at the conference, where they received information from myself and my colleagues Sam Hindels and Betty Muriuki on AMREF’s work and the Stand Up for African Mothers campaign. Life at the AMREF booth was never dull – our visitors either already loved us or were eager to learn more. Visitors to our stall included dignitaries such as members of Kenya’s Parliament, Cote d’Ivoire’s Minister of Health and the Vice President of the Gabon Senate Milébou Aubusson.
This year’s conference was particularly special because it was the first time all stakeholders rallied together around the goal of ending AIDS. During the closing ceremony of the conference, the outgoing chair of the International AIDS society, Dr. Elly Katabira, thanked participants for their dedication and commitment to making AIDS 2012 a success and urged them to maintain the momentum.