The Fifth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention took place in Cape Town, South African on July 19–22. This biennial conference brings approximately 5,000 delegates, primarily scientists, clinicians, public health experts, and community leaders from all over the world to engage in these discussions. On the agenda was the examination of the latest developments in HIV-related research and discussions about how scientific advancements can help the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.[i] This year’s conference also marked the first public appearance by Ambassador Eric Goosby, the newly confirmed U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, who is now responsible for overseeing and guiding the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
Organizers of the IAS conference “vowed to continue pushing for evidence-based approaches to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, while emphasizing the continued need to strategically invest in HIV research....”[ii] The opening session highlighted a “convergence of science and activism” to achieve these goals.[iii]
“The need for evidence-based interventions has never been more important,” said International AIDS Society (IAS) President and IAS 2009 Conference Chair Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, “Good science must inform good policy and programming to ensure the best outcomes for individuals and communities…science has given us the ability to save lives; now is not the time to be short-sighted.”[iv] Dr. Montaner’s remarks also touched on one of the primary topics discussed at the IAS conference: the need for “more efficient, long term approach[es]”to HIV prevention rather than “short-term emergency response[s].[v]
Ambassador Eric Goosby, in a special session entitled “U.S. Global HIV Policy, Research and Implementation under the New Administration,” assured participants that the global AIDS epidemic would be a central issue for the Obama administration. Ambassador Goosby advocated for investing in global health and development, and he made it clear that “scientific evidence rather than moral concerns” would be the driving force behind President Obama’s Global HIV/AIDS policy agenda.[vi]
Under Ambassador Goosby’s direction, new guidelines will be used to direct PEPFAR programs. The United States government plans to engage in a five year program designed to increase dialogue with partner countries to identify each nation’s specific needs. Ambassador Goosby emphasized the need for nations to be responsible for its own HIV/AIDS prevention programs. "Each government ultimately holds responsibility for the health of its citizens," he said, “…the end goal is for each country to control its responses both strategically and, eventually, financially.”[vii] He went on to assure participants that United States would offer greater support to countries that could not yet assume sole responsibility for strengthening health systems and shoring up health care workforce.[viii]
Many HIV/AIDS advocates were pleased to hear Goosby highlight the importance of concentrating on most-at-risk populations and assure that the PEPFAR platform will expand to include “maternal and child health, family planning and neglected tropical diseases.”[ix] According to Ambassador Goosby, PEPFAR will seek to use human-rights-based strategies in reaching out to high-risk groups—such as transgender individuals, injection drug users, and sex workers.[x] In addition, he addressed the need to combat gender inequities.
The conference allowed scientists and community leaders alike to discuss the latest developments in basic, clinical and prevention science.[xi] By sharing research findings and ideas, global leaders hoped for a worldwide collaboration to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “All of this can be achieved only if we work together, said Ambassador Goosby, “…no one nation can fight alone.”[xii]
[ii] “5th IAS Conference To Emphasize Continued Need For High-Quality, Evidence-Based HIV Programmes and Policies During Global Economic Recession,” IAS 2009, (16 July 2009), accessed 27 July 2009, <http://www.ias2009.org/admin/images/upload/IAS_2009_Press_Release_16_June_Final.pdf>.
[v] “Prevention, Vaccines Addressed at IAS Conference,” Medical News Today, 23 July 2009, accessed 27 July 2009, <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158539.php>.
[vi] “Global AIDS Coordinator Addresses Obama's Global HIV/AIDS Policy Agenda,” Kaiser Family Foundation, 21 July 2009, accessed 28 July 2009, <http://globalhealth.kff.org/Daily-Reports/2009/July/21/GH-072109-Goosby-US-AIDS.aspx>.
[viii] Christine Lubinski, “Goosby and Fauci Outline New US Approach to Global AIDS,” Center for Global Health Policy, 20 July 2009, accessed 28 July 2009, <http://sciencespeaks.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/goosby-and-fauci-outline-new-us-approach-to-global-aids/ >.