July 18, 2010

XVIII International AIDS Conference

The International AIDS Conference is the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It is a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. The 18th International AIDS conference theme is Rights Here, Right Now, emphasizing the central importance of protecting and promoting human rights as a prerequisite to a successful response to HIV.

About 25,000 researchers, policymakers, and activists are attending the six-day biennial International AIDS Conference, which begins on July 18 in Vienna. Speakers include former US president Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.

The conference will focus in part on G8 countries' commitments to sustain the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. IAC is also expected to draw attention to human rights abuses in countries with laws that target and stigmatize persons living with HIV, as well as the dire situation in some parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the spread of HIV has been particularly rapid.

Saturday, before the conference was set to open, celebrities gathered for Vienna's annual AIDS dinner and Life Ball. Clinton was present, along with Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg, singer Patti Labelle and German tennis legend Boris Becker.

The AIDS 2010 programme will present new scientific knowledge and offer many opportunities for structured dialogue on the major issues facing the global response to HIV. A variety of session types – from abstract-driven presentations to symposia, bridging sessions and plenaries – will meet the needs of various participants. Other related activities, including the Global Village, satellite meetings, exhibitions and affiliated events, will contribute to an exceptional opportunity for professional development and networking. Following the success of the pilot programme at AIDS 2008, the 18th International AIDS Conference will provide or facilitate hubs (centres) where selected sessions of the conference will be screened, to increase the access to the conference programme.

UN Millennium Development Goals set 2010 as the target for universal treatment for HIV/AIDS by everyone who needs it, but that deadline has not been met.

Some 4.7 million people in the world received HIV treatment at the end of 2008, only 42 per cent of those who needed it, according to UNAIDS.

Worldwide, there were some 33.4 million people living with HIV in 2008. Sub-Saharan Africa, home to 67 per cent of all people with the AIDS virus, is the most affected region.

In Europe, Ukraine has the highest rate of HIV infection, at 1.6 per cent.

Activists say that governments are backtracking from funding for the treatment, both domestically and internationally.

"It seems that the political leadership is losing interest," said Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS), the conference organizer.

Michel Sidibe, the head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said universal access was "a fight for human justice."

He urged a "prevention revolution" that would lead to development of a single pill for treatment of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

MSF@IAC2010 informs that after a decade of important progress on AIDS treatment in developing countries, donors are walking away from AIDS when 10 million people are still waiting for treatment.

MSF is speaking out to urge donors to reaffirm their promises now and provide timely treatment to all in need.

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