September 7, 2018

There Might Be an Alternative AIDS Conference in 2020

Written by Tim Murphy

“You need to know how sad I am about where we find ourselves,” says George Ayala, Psy.D., executive director of the Oakland, California-based MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights. “How did we get to a place in the global HIV response where the needs and desires of public health elites matters more than the concerns of people around the world who are actually living with or at risk for HIV?”

Ayala is talking about the decision on the part of the International AIDS Society to hold the 2020 edition of the biennial International AIDS Conference (IAC) — the world’s largest forum about the epidemic, drawing some 20,000 people — in the U.S., specifically in California’s Bay Area. That decision, announced in March, drew an immediate backlash, with a wide array of HIV/AIDS activists in the U.S. and abroad saying that it was wrongheaded and even dangerous to hold the conference in the U.S. while the Trump administration is pursuing policies hostile to immigrants, foreign visitors (particularly from majority-Muslim countries), LGBTQ people, and HIV high-risk and high-incidence populations, including sex workers and drug users.

Major protests over the decision broke out at the 2018 IAC in Amsterdam. And now, even as IAS says it is going forward with plans to hold the conference in both San Francisco (wealthy, expensive, touting dramatic HIV reductions in recent years) and Oakland (poorer and more people of color, with only a fraction of San Francisco’s HIV resources), Ayala and a broad network of activists worldwide are moving forward with planning a simultaneous conference outside the U.S., likely in Mexico City or Tijuana. That confab, they say, will prioritize the concerns and solutions of communities affected by HIV over those of researchers and public health officials.