The International AIDS Conference, from A to Z

After experiencing my first-ever International AIDS Conference (IAC), I was struggling to think about how I could possibly recap all that I saw and heard over the past week. So, I decided to go back to basics and use the alphabet to walk you through some of my experiences.

“AIDS-Free Generation”: This was the rallying cry of Secretary Clinton on the first full day of the conference. She also committed to developing a road map by World AIDS Day that would show how achieving an AIDS-Free Generation would be possible.

“Beginning of the end of AIDS”: This phrase was on nearly every high-level panelist’s lips this year. Some believed it was a key aspirational target that was achievable, while others argued it was too soon to be using it with millions of new HIV infections still occurring each year. See what ONE thinks about this vision here.

Condomize! A campaign set up at IAC to promote safe sex. During the IAC, they handed out condoms on a scale reportedly greater than that of the Olympic Village. They had some of the most loud, fun, and engaging displays throughout the conference.

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A Condomize! display

District of Columbia: Home to this year’s IAC, marking the first time that the IAC has been back on US soil in 20 years. DC Mayor Gray spoke at the opening session about the progress — including no child born with HIV since 2009 and a new policy allowing DC government employees to take time off from work to get an HIV test — made in combating the District’s own AIDS epidemic, which is the worst in the United States.

Eliminating mother-to-child transmission: One major pillar of ONE’s HIV/AIDS campaign work, this goal was cited often as one piece of the puzzle that was seen as achievable (although with debates ongoing about by when).

Financing: The key questions underpinning all of the aspirational phrases at IAC were “How much will this cost?” and “Who will pay for it?” Former President Clinton reminded us in his closing keynote that, for the first time, low- and middle-income countries are now paying for more than half of the AIDS response themselves — an under-highlighted accomplishment.

Gender: An important lens through which many argued we must do a better job of seeing our investments in AIDS, as women now make up more than half of the AIDS epidemic.

Hollande: In an opening video address, new French Prime Minister Hollande went on the record in support of the vision of the Beginning of the End of AIDS, the 15 million people on treatment target, and financing mechanisms including the Global Fund, UNITAID and an FTT. Merci!

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Hollande on the big screen

Investment framework: Produced last year, the IF was designed to show how resources could be more effectively channeled and targeted to fight AIDS. This year’s IAC featured many sessions that studied and highlighted how the IF is being applied in country to produce better outcomes at lower cost.

Jargon: With sessions like “Community-based adherence support associated with improved virological suppression in adults receiving antiretroviral treatment: five-year outcomes from a multicenter cohort study in South Africa” — you’d better believe there was a lot of health and development jargon flying around!

Khai: my partner-in-crime from ONE, who spent most of his days at IAC focused on science, data, and financing (at will!). You can read his blog recaps here and here.

Lost (in the convention center): The sprawling location of the IAC this year made it difficult to find sessions and even more difficult to get a true sense of the community attending. Particularly with the Global Village buried in the basement, the IAC felt distinctly quiet this year.

Marginalized populations: A main theme at this year’s IAC was the need to do much better by marginalized populations (including men who have sex with men, injection drug users, and sex workers) in the AIDS response.

“Nothing about us without us”: another rallying cry heard repeated throughout the conference, especially related to “M” above.

Ownership: the topic of ownership of health outcomes and programs was a common one. As in the financing discussions, much was made about how affected countries could and should take greater responsibility for their own pandemics, and how donors could help facilitate this transition.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis: one of many (relatively) new interventions discussed throughout the week, surrounded by many questions: how and when to use it, how to implement it in the field, how to finance it relative to other prevention interventions.

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Quilt: the AIDS Memorial Quilt was out on the National Mall all week, and a number of panels were hanging in the main session room, serving as a poignant and personal reminder to all IAC attendees of the toll this disease has caused in three decades.

R&D: Many, including Bill Gates, were quick to remind us that if we want to talk about the end of AIDS, we have to double down on investments in research and development — particularly focused on a vaccine and eventually a cure.

Sex workers: Although this group was largely unable to attend the IAC because of travel restrictions, they still managed to make their presence known through a satellite conference in India and a number of vocal protests throughout the week

Turning the Tide Together: the theme for the conference, uttered approximately 47,352 times at last count.

UNAIDS data: New data from UNAIDS shows that there are now 8 million people on treatment around the world. Unveiling this was one of the brightest spots in the conference, demonstrating that the 15 million people on treatment goal by 2015 (previously seen as quite a stretch) is actually possible with the right level of continued investments.

Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision: Another key prevention tool that was widely discussed in a number of technical sessions and that was oddly protested outside of the convention center.

World Bank: It was a big week for the World Bank, with new President Jim Kim returning home to his previous community (AIDS activists) and delivering a series of powerful remarks. The Bank also hosted a debate with the Center for Global Development that provided intelligent back-and-forth over the merits of AIDS financing and an outburst of tweets online.

XDR-TB: OK, the X was a tough one… but HIV co-infection with TB was on the radar at this year’s IAC, with advocates from RESULTS to Whoopi Goldberg to stuffed mascots leading the charge.

Youth: Though the conference itself never felt particularly “youthful,” there was at least great lip service to the importance of involving youth in programmatic decisions and of providing better prevention services for youth. Nigerian teenager Ebube Taylor (whose story Michel Sidibe featured in our World AIDS Day report last year) stole the show with her remarks on a panel focused on PMTCT, and — bonus Y! — Yvonne Chaka Chaka also recorded a video message for ONE members.

Zzz: what I had to do all weekend once the IAC wrapped up, to make up for my lack of sleep during the week!

Can’t get enough of the International AIDS Conference? Read our previous articles on the ONE Blog here.