Revisiting Memorable Moments From AIDS 2014

Associate Editor
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Once every two years the worldwide HIV community convenes to exchange knowledge, experiences and camaraderie. This biennial gathering -- the International AIDS Conference -- is unique in its grandeur, its scope and its significance. This year, Melbourne was the gathering's host city. For those who were there, it was an event to remember. For those who couldn't attend, offers this slideshow of major research, moments and themes.

Dealing With Loss in a New Way

For those who have been part of the HIV epidemic since its earliest days, loss is too common -- par for the course, even. However, when news spread that six of the people who lost their lives in the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 were en route to AIDS 2014, the community grappled with loss in a whole new way. Early reports said that over 100 people on the flight were AIDS 2014 attendees, though the correct figure was later confirmed as six. Really, though, it doesn't matter how many people we lost that day. They were our friends and colleagues, and the loss of their current and future contributions is immeasurable.

HIV Prevention, in Old and New Ways

There was no escaping conversation about Truvada, the little blue pill that can prevent HIV infection, throughout AIDS 2014. While the U.S. discussed the latest data on PrEP uptake and barriers to access, international PrEP advocates shared their frustrations over PrEP only being available in the U.S. In many sessions, advocates from Europe, Africa and Australia learned as much as they could about PrEP in order to further regional efforts for approval. PrEP was also a major theme of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV pre-conference.

Aside from PrEP in general, one of the conference's most well-attended panels included a panel of internationally recognized prevention advocates who called for the return of pleasure into conversations around HIV prevention. Our community editor, Mathew Rodriguez, shared some of his thoughts about the move toward including more HIV-negative people in the conversation about HIV and what has been called the viral divide.

Credit: Wikimedia

Ending HIV Criminalization Globally

At Beyond Blame, a pre-conference devoted to the issue of HIV criminalization, Edwin Bernard of the HIV Justice Network in the U.K. acknowledged the great work being done in the U.S., and said he hopes other countries will begin to emulate that progress. Some other huge names in the U.S. HIV decriminalization movement were also present, including Sean Strub and the recently exonerated Nick Rhoades of Iowa.

Everyone Has the Right to Be Undetectable

In the first of a few high-profile activist actions, a group of leading global treatment activists called for every person living with HIV to have access to the care necessary to achieve an undetectable viral load. They challenged political leaders to urge international agencies to expand financing and treatment options.

90-90-90 Is Unveiled

The goal is easy to remember, as long as you remember "90-90-90." Ninety percent of people will know their status by getting tested, 90% of those infected will receive ample treatment and 90% of those on treatment will be suppressed -- all by 2020. The plan is an ambitious one, and it's all headed up by UNAIDS. The initiative was announced at the opening session of AIDS 2014.

Julio Montaner, M.D., the director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said he "dream[s] of the day when the HIV-infected have a test at home like diabetics do today." He also talked briefly about former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange, who passed away in the MH17 tragedy. Lange was involved in developing the 90-90-90 strategy in its early stages.

A Sea of Lights

As Mark S. King said, "Nowhere was the mutual understanding of our shared commitment greater than when marching together during the activist event in the streets of Melbourne on Tuesday, July 22. We were a single community of people living with HIV and our allies, and as we raised our placards and our fists, we understood one another completely."

The candlelight vigil -- in which thousands of activists, allies and those living with HIV packed into Melbourne's Federation Square -- featured performances and readings from Australian performers and politicians, and is chronicled in a video blog by King.

The Price Is Too Damn High

In another high-profile protest, activists from around the world confronted a panel from Gilead Sciences about the cost of its hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, which at the time was the most expensive hepatitis C drug in the world.

Activists blared the O'Jay's song "For the Love of Money" and presented the Gilead panel with an actual cow's liver, while chanting slogans from "Shame, shame, shame" to "Pharma greed kills."

Transgender Visibility

Transgender visibility at AIDS 2014 was extremely high -- though a lot more work has to be done to make sure our transgender brothers and sisters are well-represented in the fight.

At one plenary session, transgender woman and researcher JoAnne Keatley said that transgender women are not men who have sex with men and need research that addresses their needs. Simon Collins from HIV i-Base spoke with Keatley at AIDS 2014 about transgender services and clinics. Another session looked at the sexual health and HIV prevention needs of same-sex attracted transgender men.

Bill Clinton Addresses the Room

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton addressed the crowd at AIDS 2014 in a packed auditorium. He spoke about the Clinton Foundation's global work to scale up HIV treatment in several countries, the 20,000 children a month still being infected with HIV and how stigma is on the rise.

Protesters also interrupted Clinton's speech. They called for a global financial transaction tax (known as the "Robin Hood" tax) to fund global humanitarian efforts, including HIV treatment.