amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

AIDS 2012: Harbinger of an AIDS-Free Generation?

AIDS 2012Nearly 24,000 people from 183 countries came together for the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., July 22–27.  With President Obama’s 2009 lifting of the nation’s entry restrictions on people living with HIV, this was the first International AIDS Conference to be held in the U.S. in 22 years.

In an opening plenary address, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she would release by World AIDS Day 2012 (December 1) a blueprint to create an AIDS-free generation. She also detailed the progress of scaled-up interventions already in place and pledged more than $35 million to focus on key populations—including sex workers, injecting drug users, and men who have sex with men—by creating a country challenge fund, supporting implementation to identify workable interventions, and bolstering civil society groups’ efforts to reach those populations.

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AIDS Quilt 

During the conference, panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt covered the National Mall and many were displayed in the convention center. Secretary Clinton recalled in her speech the first time she saw the quilt, which bears the names of  those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses. “We are all here because we want to bring about that moment when we stop adding names,” she said. “When we can come to a gathering like this one and not talk about the fight against AIDS, but instead commemorate the birth of a generation that is free of AIDS.”

The conference enabled researchers, advocates, healthcare workers, public health officials, people living with HIV, and others involved in the AIDS response to share knowledge and research findings, discuss what works and what doesn’t, and collectively chart a way forward.  Speakers included Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, Sir Elton John, and Whoopi Goldberg.  

Together to End AIDS 

On the eve of the conference, amfAR honored Bill Gates for his visionary leadership on global health and HIV/AIDS at an event co-hosted with GBCHealth and titled Together to End AIDS. amfAR’s Award of Courage was presented to Mr. Gates by the Foundation’s global fundraising cohairman, Sharon Stone. “We have many potential game-changers that are bringing us closer to the end of AIDS,” Mr. Gates said in his acceptance speech. “Again and again, innovation has solved problems that people thought were unsolvable.”

Sharon Stone was on hand again at the opening plenary the following evening to present the inaugural Elizabeth Taylor Award for Human Rights in the Field of HIV. The award, jointly sponsored by amfAR and the International AIDS Society, was presented to Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei of Iran.

The physician brothers pioneered HIV care among prisoners in Iran, but were arrested in 2008 and accused of fomenting “a velvet revolution.” They were locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where each spent months in solitary confinement. As word spread of their incarceration, Physicians for Human Rights spearheaded a vigorous effort to secure their release.  For Kamiar, it finally came in late 2010, after two and a half years in prison. Arash was released in 2011.  Today the brothers are working at the State University of New York in Albany.

Getting Real 

Throughout the conference, amfAR played an active and prominent role. Vice President and Director of Public Policy Chris Collins co-chaired a lively panel discussion co-sponsored by amfAR and AVAC and titled Getting Real About Getting to the End of AIDS.  After opening remarks by amfAR Chairman Kenneth Cole, the panel was moderated by renowned journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault and featured a high-level panel that included Anthony Fauci, M.D.,  Mike Cohen, M.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, and Helen Rees, M.D., executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in South Africa.   

amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Rowena Johnston, Ph.D., co-chaired a session titled “Gender and Science: Shifting the Paradigm in HIV Research” and participated in a pre-conference cure symposium co-chaired by Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Deeks is an amfAR grantee and a member of the amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE). 

Tenacity and Courage 

Addressing delegates at the conference’s closing plenary, President Bill Clinton said, “Millions of people and an AIDS-free generation still depend on your daily tenacity and courage. No, we don’t have all the money or all the answers we need. But we have you. We have you to thank for all the progress that’s been made, and you to make us believe we can achieve an AIDS-free generation.”