July 20, 2015

International AIDS Society Meeting 2015

Written by Peter Hayward, Editor of The Lancet HIV

This post originally appeared on The Lancet HIV Blog here.

Vancouver Convention Centre’s west building juts out into the sparkling waters of Coal Harbour, across which forest clad mountains bask in glorious July evening sunshine: an impressive vista to greet the attendees of the opening session for the 2015 International AIDS Society meeting. Welcoming comments from IAS President, Chris Beyrer, and local even co-chair Julio Montaner remind the assembled audience that Vancouver was host to the 1996 conference at which triple combination antiretroviral therapy was introduced—within weeks 75 000 people were receiving combination treatment that would fully suppress the HIV virus. Fitting then that Vancouver is hosting now, shortly after the announcement that 15 million people are receiving treatment. Moreover, the meeting sees the introduction of the Vancouver Consensus in which signatories call on world leaders to commit to providing immediate access to ART for all people diagnosed with HIV. The resources needed to provide that level of treatment will be great, and the AIDS Community, advocates, and civil society will have to ensure that available resources are used to maximum effect and to pressure governments to provide more resources—there are 5 crucial years in which to mobilise resources by 2020 if they are to have the desired effects to reach the 90-90-90 goals (90% of people with HIV diagnosed, 90% of those on treatment, and 90% of those with controlled virus) for 2030. For governments questioning the value of immediate treatment Montaner said “you are either with us or against us”.

I must admit, as more of a folk and country man myself, Ryan Lewis’s musical career has largely passed me by. The Grammy winning hip-hop artist was invited to address the opening session along with his mother Julie to promote their 30/30 project. Julie has been living with HIV since 1984 when she was infected in her early 20s by a transfusion given after post-partum haemorrhage following the birth of her first child. She was not diagnosed until 1990, and in the intervening 6 years she’d had two more children neither of whom was infected with HIV. At the time of her diagnosis, the mother of three young children expected to live perhaps 2 or 3 years longer. But she fortunately had access to AZT, and then to subsequent antiretrovirals, and 30 years after the initial infection she wondered how she could mark how fortunate she had been to survive so long. The 30/30 project was conceived: a plan to build an HIV/AIDS treatment centre in a region without access to care, to enable women with HIV to see their families grow up, and opportunity that they might not otherwise have. The first 30 related to the 30 years with HIV, the second to the US building regulation that states that all buildings must be built to last for at least 30 years. But evidently you don’t become a Grammy award winning hip-hop artist without dreaming big, and when Ryan got involved the second 30 came to stand for 30 centres. Three have so far been built in Kenya and Malawi, and two more are underway in Uganda and India, the project is funded by sources as diverse as Ryan’s fans donating their pocket money and T-Mobile. The pair, both sporting T-shirts bearing the slogan HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT, are modest about their work, and while Ryan Lewis certainly has something of the showman about him (manifesting mainly as a hat on this occasion), they seemed genuinely delighted and humbled to be invited to address IAS 2015: “On behalf of people living with HIV”, said Julie, “thank you for what you have accomplished—you have profoundly changed our lives.”

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