At a glance: AIDS 2014, Melbourne
Thousands of delegates from around the globe converged on Melbourne last week for the 20th International AIDS conference.
The five-day summit included addresses by notable speakers such as Michael Kirby, former US president Bill Clinton and activist Bob Geldof, as well as announcements of scientific breakthroughs, and the latest developments in HIV research and treatment.
The gathering began on a sombre note when it emerged six delegates en route to the conference were aboard the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Tributes began to flow for the lost colleagues, who were all well known in the AIDS community for their work on HIV prevention, advocacy and/or research.
The conference proper began on Monday and plenary sessions included HIV cure strategies, the hot topic of HIV prevention via Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), Treatment as Prevention (TasP), and voluntary medical male circumcision. Issues surrounding co-infection were raised, as was the high cost of treatment for Hepatitis C.
The impact of discrimination and stigma on people living with HIV was another key issue of the conference, with several plenary sessions discussing the need for decriminalisation of HIV transmission. Following an announcement by the Victorian Health Minister David Davis of a planned amendment to section 19a of the Crime Act which currently criminalises HIV transmission, advocates from the Victorian AIDS Council and Living Positive went one step further suggesting 19a needed to be repealed.
Above: Demonstrators at the mobilisation march. View the full gallery here. Photo: Cec Busby
Decriminalisation was a sentiment echoed throughout the conference with advocate after advocate suggesting discriminalistion and stigma was a key barrier to ending HIV.
A mobilisation march to Federation Square saw thousands of LGBTI people, advocates and allies of people living with HIV protest through Melbourne’s streets to demand equal rights, an end to stigma and discrimination and access to treatment.
The march culminated in a candlelight vigil where the audience was entertained by Wicked cast members Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix, as well as members of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Choir. The vigil served as a timely reminder of all those we have lost in the battle to end AIDS.
Above: A participant joins the candlelight vigil. View the full gallery here. Photo: Cec Busby
As the conference sessions continued more commonalities emerged, including the impact of drug policies on the spread of HIV. Global Drug Commissioner Sir Richard Branson weighed in via video-link suggesting the war on drugs had failed in terms of both stopping the supply of drugs and the public heath outcomes. Branson said the time had come to replace criminalisation with a health care model.
The rights of transgender people and sex workers was also front and centre at this year’s conference as was the impact of laws criminalising men who have sex with men.
One of the most moving sessions of the conference saw a panel of people living with HIV discuss how they have directly and personally been affected by injustice, control and punishment based on their HIV status.
Above: Former US President Bill Clinton addresses the conference. View other galleries here. Photo: Cec Busby
Former US President Bill Clinton also tackled the subject in his opening address saying it is “unbelievable” that after all this time, “stigma and discrimination are on the rise in some contexts”.
Clinton described the AIDS 2014 gathering as “more of a movement than a conference”, and encouraged delegates and those involved with HIV around the world to “step up the pace and continue to make in-roads in the global response to HIV”.