International AIDS Conference 2012

By Jamie Forrest, Board of Directors

Last month, more than 24,000 delegates from all over the world gathered in Washington DC for the 19th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012). Activists, scientists, policy makers and even celebrities participated in this week-long event of planned meetings, speaking engagements and demonstrations. The theme of this year’s conference was Turning the Tide Together. It was a recognition by the international community that we have many of the tools needed to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but that we must work together better and not leave anyone out of the conversations in getting us there.

AIDS 2012 marked the first time since 1990 that the world’s largest gathering of people affected and infected with HIV/AIDS has been held in the US. Restrictions on US VISA applications for people living HIV worldwide prevented the conference from being held there. These restrictions were lifted recently and people living with HIV can now travel freely into the US. Though AIDS 2012 did aim to “Turn the Tide Together”, two groups were notably absent from this conference. US VISA applications are still denied to anyone suspect of being a drug user or a sex worker. Activists rallied with images of the Statue of Liberty holding a sign that read “No Drug Users. No Sex Workers. No International AIDS Conference”.

Young people also had a prominent role at the conference. The Youth Pavilion in the Global Village became a central networking space for people at AIDS 2012, and the pavilion hosted program sessions, workshops, performances and exhibitions. With about half of all new HIV infections globally occurring among people under 25 and with 5.4 million young people worldwide living with HIV, it is crucial to have the voices of young people heard. The conference had a dedicated youth program that addressed the diversity of issues affecting young people’s sexual health and a special rapporteur summarized the youth program here http://www.aids2012.org/Default.aspx?pageId=421

The 20th International AIDS conference will take place in 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. For the next two years, our global colleagues will be working hard to slowly turn the tide in their own communities with the aim of better including those most vulnerable to HIV. At the closing session, co-chair of AIDS 2014, Prof. Sharon Lewin promisingly declared, “drug users and sex workers will be warmly welcomed to Melbourne in 2014.”

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