21 July 2014

Moment of remembrance for Aids conference delegates

Representatives of organisations that lost colleagues aboard flight MH17 stood in front of more than 5,000 international delegates in Melbourne for a moment of remembrance.

The 20th International Aids Conference, officially began last night (Sunday 20 July) in Melbourne, Australia, with moving tributes to the six delegates who lost their lives aboard flight MH17.

Representatives of the organisations that lost colleagues – the World Health Organisation, Aids Fonds, Stop Aids Now, The Female Health Company, and the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development – joined eleven former, present and future presidents of the International Aids Society (IAS) and members of the Dutch HIV community on the main stage in front of more than 5,000 delegates from around the world for a moment of remembrance.

Discussion and debate

Read: 'Gene editing' could make T cells HIV resistant

“I strongly believe that all of us being here for the next week to discuss, to debate and to learn is indeed what our colleagues who are no longer with us would have wanted,” Prof. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, International Conference Chair of Aids 2014 and President of the International Aids Society told the gathering. ”We will remember their legacy and forever keep them in our hearts.”

Prof. Barré-Sinoussi went on to say: “The tremendous scale up of HIV programmes has begun to reverse the spread of HIV. According to the new UNAIDS report released a few days ago, nearly 14 million people living with HIV in low and middle-income countries are now being treated. Millions of lives are saved. But this is far from being enough and we still have plenty to do. Let’s show the world that neither brutality nor hatred can stop us. Let’s join our forces to build a better future for all.”

In welcoming the gathering to host-country Australia, the local Co-chair of Aids 2014, Prof. Sharon Lewin, said: "I am delighted that this week we will hear about some truly ground-breaking advances in new treatments of hepatitis C and tuberculosis, two of the most significant co-infections in people living with HIV. As a scientist, I remain passionate that the search for a vaccine and cure must continue. I sincerely hope that what you learn and see in Melbourne rapidly translates to action, action that contributes to our collaborative and escalating efforts to see the end of HIV."

Focus on HIV cure

At a press conference this morning, Prof. Lewin said the focus of efforts for an HIV cure was currently on developing treatments leading to remission. She said the latest research and findings were significant in that ''they have shown us that we can wake up the virus reservoir and make enough of the virus to leave the cell, making it visible to an immune response.''

Read: HIV findings offer hope for 'cure'

Today’s conference activities (Monday 21 July) began with plenary presentations about the latest advances for an HIV cure (Jintanat Ananworanich of Thailand), latest trends in HIV epidemiology (Salim Abdool Karim of South Africa), and how people with HIV are participating in the contemporary global response to HIV (Lydia Mungherera of Uganda).

Also this morning were two key symposiums: one addressing hepatitis co-infection among people living with HIV; and another looking at the barriers to effective HIV prevention created by the discrimination against key affected populations and criminalisation of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure in some parts of the world.

Role of law enforcement

A joint press conference on the role police are playing in HIV prevention was held by senior representatives of police and law enforcement agencies from Seattle Police Department, Vietnam, Ghana and the UN to speak to the launch of a new report by the Open Society Foundation.

Today also featured the opening ceremony for the Aids 2014 Global Village, an international showcase of community related HIV programmes and activities. Speakers included Michael Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS, and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

This afternoon will feature several special sessions including symposiums on viral latency and reservoirs, tuberculosis co-infection among people living with HIV, the future of science in the global HIV response and galvanizing a movement for ending the Aids epidemic by 2030.

Read: Doctor convinced HIV cure is real

Other activities will include a special session chaired by UNDP Administrator and former New Zealand PM Helen Clark on human rights and HIV law reform.

Read more:

HIV patients less likely to get cancer treatment
HIV-positive inmates benefit from drug therapy


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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