AIDS 2012: On key populations, BRICS and treatment scale-up

Today is the second-to-last day of the International AIDS Conference here in Washington, D.C., and the conference shows no signs of slowing down. Since my last update, I have attended seven sessions, two satellite events and one workshop, with scarcely enough time in between to grab a bite to eat.

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At some point, conference fatigue sets in and the presentations start running together. Your vision blurs and your head nods, but only for the briefest moment. Something exciting inevitably jolts the system and commands your attention once more, perhaps a piece of new research, a powerful testimony, or even a protest demonstration. I think it will take several weeks for me to fully process everything I’ve seen and heard, but, for now, here are three observations:

1. Key populations: Last night, I was fortunate to attend a beautiful reception hosted by amfAR to honor community-led efforts to reduce the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals.

Key populations, including men who have sex with men as well as sex workers and drug users, face increased risk of HIV infection, obstacles to accessing HIV prevention and treatment services, stigma and discrimination, criminalization laws, marginalization and numerous other challenges that hinder the HIV/AIDS response in their communities. Throughout the conference, in panels and presentations and protests, we are reminded again and again that the end of the epidemic cannot be achieved without addressing the needs of key populations. Remember: we must turn the tide together.

2. BRICS: As the world looks forward to the beginning of the end of AIDS, the political and economic leadership of the BRICS countries will be critically important. Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa all contain large domestic HIV epidemics that must be contended with, but each of the BRICS must also look beyond their own borders and help respond to the HIV epidemic both regionally and globally. Stephen Morrison of CSIS moderated a panel with health officials from four of the five BRICS countries (BICS) on their major accomplishments in the last decade and future directions.

3. Treatment scale-up: The goal of 15 million people on antiretroviral therapy treatment by 2015 is possible with high-level political commitment, expanded HIV testing and counseling, innovations in delivery of medication, reaching key vulnerable populations, strategic decision-making, and perhaps most importantly, increased financial resources.

The world has already achieved a great milestone, reaching 8 million people on ART in 2011, but to get to 15 million, it is absolutely necessary to close the financing gap. International assistance as well as domestic funding must be scaled up in order to reach our target. I think the prevailing feeling around here is that it can be done. Now is not the time to hold back!

The conference ends tomorrow with former President Bill Clinton keynoting the closing session. Check back here for more updates.