International AIDS Conference Poised for Kick Off

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/18/2012, 5:21 p.m.

As the District of Columbia prepares to host the XIX International AIDS Conference, one of the key players told a media audience last week that she eagerly anticipates the death of the pandemic.

'"Turning the tide together' is the overarching theme marking the beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemic," said Dr. Diane V. Havlir, an HIV/AIDS specialist and practicing physician with San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Unit.

Havlir - one of the authors and architects of the first World Health Organization's Global HIV treatment guidelines and U.S. conference co-chair - said this is a defining moment for all who have worked tirelessly to eradicate the pandemic. The biennial conference comes at a time when there have been tremendous strides made in strategies, treatment and ultimately a cure, she added.

"There is new data and treatment of great health benefit by starting the treatment early," she said during the July 11 press conference at the Kaiser Foundation in Northwest. "The question is, how do we combine the tools and break them out?"

It is the first time the District of Columbia is hosting the conference and it comes after President Barack Obama lifted the travel ban that prohibited those with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States. Havlir and other speakers said they are delighted that the conference is here and said they saw great significance in Washington being chosen to host the conference's 25,000 delegates, including activists, HIV professionals, community activists, politicians, global community leaders and people living with HIV and 2,000 media representatives.

Leading into the conference, any questions about the District's ability to handle a conference of this magnitude have been put to rest, Havlir said. The conference will highlight the blend of policy, resources and leadership that is being used to fight the disease and conferees will laud its successes such as the fact that no baby has been born HIV-positive in the city in three years.

Just prior to the press conference, the International AIDS Society and the University of California, San Francisco, issued a declaration calling for global support for an end to the AIDS epidemic.

Organizers have been encouraging concerned citizens, scientists, politicians and celebrities to sign the nine-point Washington, D.C. Declaration. Among the points are calls for: an increase in targeted new investments; evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need; an end to stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions, and human rights abuses against those living with and at risk of HIV; and mobilization and meaningful involvement of affected communities.

Former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt is the honorary co-chair of the conference. Former President Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John, Microsoft's Bill Gates, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), former U.S. Senator Dr. Bill Frist, Ambassador Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and actress Whoopi Goldberg are among those scheduled to lecture, participate in forums and other aspects of the conference.