For the first time in 20 years, the International AIDS Conference opens today in the United States following the lifting of the travel ban in January 2010 that prevented HIV-positive people from entering the country. Because of its venue in the nation's capitol, the conference, always a vibrant stage for AIDS activists, will feature more than the usual number of politicians - from former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senators John Kerry and Lindsay Graham. Some 25,000 people will crowd the Washington Convention Center for the six-day conference, which will include these highlights:
- For the first time, scientists are focusing their attention on seeking a cure for HIV. A cure would free the millions of people on antiretroviral therapy from the daily burdens and side-effects of medication, as well as reduce the enormous global cost of therapy, estimated to reach $22 billion to $24 billion by 2015. But it constitutes a huge scientific challenge, as the virus embeds itself in immune system cells and can hide out there for years, avoiding detection.
- With a theme, "Turning the Tide Together," conference leaders see the world on the cusp of a new era in AIDS, with many tools available to control the disease, but limited resources for implementation to broad populations. In recent years, major studies have shown the value of treating people as a way to prevent transmission of the virus and have led to recent FDA approval of an antiretroviral drug that can be used as a preventive in uninfected people. Yet funding for these and other treatment strategies is becoming scarce, with the global commitment remaining flat since 2008, according to a recent report from UNAIDS.
- With global AIDS investments at risk, major policy figures, including Bill Gates, will talk about the most effective and efficient use of resources. Eric Goosby, MD, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (who was targeted by activists at the last AIDS conference in 2010), will participate in the Monday discussion.
- Appearances by major public figures, including singer Elton John, who founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. He will deliver a keynote Monday in a special session on public-private partnerships.
Ruthann Richter is a Scope contributor and writer in the medical school’s communication office. She is attending the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. and is posting periodic updates on the happenings there. You can see all of her updates in our HIV/AIDS category.