The International AIDS Conference 101
What is the IAC?
The International AIDS Conference meets every two years, run by the International AIDS Society, where over 22,000 delegates and 2,000 volunteers involved in the HIV/AIDS response convene. The conference is an opportunity for leaders, academics, grassroot organisations and activists to meet, share best practice and lobby for increased political and funding support to create an AIDS-free generation. It's an opportunity to find out the latest research in HIV and AIDS, and to lobby people and organisations to do more to support the response. This year it's in Washington D.C and Hollie, Dave (national coordinator in 2011) and I attended the IAC in Vienna in 2010.
The conference itself is split into plenary sessions, workshops and poster presentations, and the Global Village and Exhibition Hall are a hive of activity for networking,debate and sharing ideas. The AIDS Conference 2010 was held in Vienna, where we signed the Vienna Declaration, committing to a paradigm shift in drug policy through accepting that criminalisation of drug users is unhelpful in tackling HIV/AIDS.i At this year's IAC we sign the Washington Declaration, calling us to 'Turn the tides on HIV/AIDS', calling for increased investment to provide greater access to services, treatment and care, to end stigma, and to lower rates of vertical transmission through mobilisation of key affected communities. The Washington Declaration contains all pretty reasonable stuff, but as so often is the case, it's hardly ground breaking and we were all really hoping for a little bit more substance.
A little ironic?
The United States seemed like an unusual choice for the 19th International AIDS Conference. For example, it's worth noting that when Washington D.C won the bid to host in 2009, people living with HIV were still unable to gain access to the USA. Fortunately (at a politically convenient time), this ruling was formally reversed in January 2010, but there's an ominous lack of sex workers, who are also unable to enter the USA, and are undeniably a hugely important key affected population, without whom our response is incomplete. It's also questionable as to why we're in Washington D.C of all places, a dreary place where fun appears to come to die, when we could all be sipping margaritas in San Francisco? Next stop Melbourne in 2014, and fingers crossed back to Africa for 2016, as there hasn't been an IAC in the continent since Durban in 2000 – which seems a little ridiculous when you consider where the major burden of disease is found.
The YouthForce is the collective term for all young people fighting HIV/AIDS at the IAC. They run a youth pre-conference which Hollie and I attended (see her blog for amusing stories from funders, who are clearly still missing the point quite considerably when it comes to meaningful youth-adult partnership). The YouthForce strengthen the youth voice at the IAC and run a youth pavillion where young people hang out, running panel discussions, workshops, and planning advocacy action and events. Each IAC the YouthForce plans several key messages, which will constitute the focus of our advocacy for this IAC. This year these are: access, partnership and equality. They highlight the vital need for more genuine youth engagement and leadership in fighting HIV/AIDS, the importance of giving key populations a voice, and without doubt the importance of antiretroviral supply; it's fair to say that anyone representing Novartis at the IAC should prepare to be very unpopular indeed since their decision to sue India for making generic versions of their ARVs, and they should probably come armed with a crash helmet.
The main conference starts today. I'm volunteering in the speaker centre so hopefully I'll be able to corner some speakers and question them. We'll keep you posted with updates! Follow us on twitter @sexpressionuk, @evawooding, @cpegorie