20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)


Cacophony or Consensus? Snapshots of a Complicated AIDS Conference

July 21, 2014

The International AIDS Conference is a unique animal. With multiple stages and sites, now online as well as in person, it's nothing so much as an interlocking puzzle that can't be pulled apart; a complicated, unduplicated interplay of seekers, strategists, stakeholders, spokespeople and creators of spectacle undergirded by an almost impossible amount of data.

Here are some quick hits from a conference whose cacophony of communication tilts wildly from hopeful to dire to inspiring to discouraging, and back again.

The Conference Opens: Tribute, Testimony on Loss, Progress and the Way Forward

AIDS 2014 began, officially, on the evening of July 20, with an opening session featuring remembrances of the six individuals who lost their lives en route to the gathering, as passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

As relayed by's Myles Helfand:

The official start of the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) featured a series of eloquent, heartfelt, moving speeches by a diverse range of people, from outspoken advocate and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé (who held up a protest sign as he began his speech) to the humbled and overwhelmed Yohana Haule, a 21-year-old Tanzanian man who won the competition to design the conference logo.

But easily one of the most powerful moments of the evening was the speech given by Michael Kirby, a former High Court of Australia justice and a widely respected global human rights advocate. The full text of his speech is available online, and is worth reading in its entirety.

And then the conference, which flexed its muscles with a series of pre-conferences and satellite sessions over the weekend (like this skills-building workshop on trans MSM, covered by's Mathew Rodriguez), plunged into the myriad of issues that affect, and are affected by, the global pandemic.

Here's some more on what emerged -- we'll keep them coming, so do keep your eyes on's conference coverage.

Remember, there are lots of ways to dive into the conference online, including apps. As always, keep in touch and share your perspectives and questions on the news and events with us.

Key Populations?

You'll be hearing a lot about "key populations" in the coming days. But what's that mean? As explained by AVAC's Mitchell Warren, it's "current global health lingo for often-marginalized populations that are heavily affected by the AIDS epidemic including gay men and other men who have sex with men, people in prison, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people."

The Melbourne Declaration says that we'll never defeat HIV unless we do right by key pops:

We, the signatories and endorsers of this Declaration, affirm that non-discrimination is fundamental to an evidence-based, rights-based and gender transformative response to HIV and effective public health programmes.

To defeat HIV and achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support -- nobody should be criminalized or discriminated against because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, religious or spiritual beliefs, country of origin, national status, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a sex worker, prisoner or detainee, because they use or have used illicit drugs or because they are living with HIV.

Ring true to you? You -- and your organization -- are invited to add your endorsement to the declaration.

"Undetectability for All" Takes the Stage

New PEPFAR Ambassador Deborah Birx told in a video interview that she sees a high level of coalescence in the priorities across stakeholders:

It's very exciting to see people coalescing around the same concepts, whether you're an advocate or whether you're a scientist or whether you're a clinician -- the interest in making sure that people are undetectable to control the virus is the very essence of how to get in controlling the pandemic.

Undetectability was undeniably the top issue of the day for a broad swath of nearly 50 groups worldwide whose statement inspired activists to stretch a banner across the stage as the much-orchestrated, high-level political meeting opened on the first day of the conference:

According to their press release, the activists are calling on governments to:

  • Use every tool available to eliminate patent barriers that make ARVs [antiretrovirals] and other drugs unaffordable in many countries.
  • Push hard for affordable viral load testing -- no single viral load test anywhere in the world should cost more than 10 USD and further price reductions should be possible.
  • Fully fund the HIV treatment response including fully funding national programs, the Global Fund, PEPFAR, and other initiatives.
  • Fully funding strong, accountable, community-based treatment literacy and adherence support along with strong social protection programs.
  • Commit to a human rights based HIV response by combating criminalization, discrimination, and stigma and averting coercive practices by putting in place a strong community led rights infrastructure.

At the session, according to UNAIDS, Executive Director Michel Sidibé called for a new set of treatment targets by 2020. "These include that 90% of all people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection receive HIV treatment and 90% of all people receiving HIV treatment have durable viral suppression."

The agency explained that "these new targets will reflect a new paradigm for HIV treatment: targets for each stage of the treatment continuum, rather than a single number of people who initiate treatment; recognition not only of the life-saving therapeutic benefits of HIV treatment, but also its prevention potential; and a commitment to leave no one behind in the push to link all people living with HIV to treatment services."

How About #LGBTMatters?

One of the notable aspects of the conference is the open-to-the-public Global Village, where anyone and everyone can come for a free, vibrant parallel conference with distinct networking zones, civil society exhibitors and an almost overwhelming array of events. This will be the first year the Global Village will feature a transgender networking zone, called Trans People Step Forward!

But when the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) found out that there would no longer be an LGBT networking zone -- a conference staple -- it sounded an alarm called #LGBTMatters.

The hashtag has reached far and wide, allowing LGBT people and allies who can't make it to Melbourne to speak out. IGLHRC will bring their words to the Global Village and the main conference alike -- a mission, it says, that is made even more important by the reality that many LGBT people are excluded, harassed, criminalized or attacked by their own governments around the world. As the conference proceeds, #LGBTMatters will be used to weigh in on presentations that aren't paying due attention to LGBT, well, matters.

On Another Note: Superstars' Videos on Sustaining the Struggle Against HIV/AIDS

A common theme in HIV is the need to bridge generations in our efforts. It's no easy feat. But two videos to be released at the conference at least confirm that two generations of pop superstars are devoted to efforts to draw attention and resources to the epidemic.

Katy Perry said she worked with UNICEF on the "Unconditionally" video "in support of the 35 million people living with HIV, especially the young people who often suffer in silence." She's now also dedicated the video to the HIV/AIDS leaders who perished on flight MH17, and to all the victims of MH17.

Sir Elton John, whose foundation is pivotal in supporting HIV/AIDS efforts, released a welcoming message and video called "AIDS: Living in the Shadows" that will be screened at the conference on July 22, followed by a panel discussion:

Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for and

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.

Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

This article was provided by TheBodyPRO. It is a part of the publication The 20th International AIDS Conference.


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