Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

International AIDS Conference Focuses on Picking up the Pace Against HIV

July 22, 2014

Bryan Callahan is attending the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Last week, I boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, skimmed the official program of the 20th International AIDS Conference, circled a few of the stories I wanted to cover, and went to sleep.

By the time I landed, the lead story had changed. Australian TV networks were reporting that a Malaysian Airlines flight carrying nearly 300 passengers had been shot down over Ukraine, killing a number of AIDS advocates and researchers. The dead included:

  • Dr. Joep Lange, a world-recognized expert on HIV treatment and co-director of the HIV Netherlands Australia Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT)
  • Jacqueline van Tongeren of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health Cooperation
  • Pim de Kuijer, a government relations officer for Aids Fonds/STOP AIDS NOW!
  • Martine de Schutter, a program Manager Aids Fonds/STOP AIDS NOW!
  • Glenn Thomas, a communications officer for the World Health Organization
  • Lucie van Mens, director of Support at the Female Health Company

In Melbourne, the MH17 tragedy has served as a reminder of the steep price that the AIDS movement has paid for progressBut the untimely deaths have also sparked a renewed sense of urgency. On Sunday, Mark Dybul of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria suggested that Joep Lange would have urged his friends to stop spending precious time on eulogies celebrating his life and work. “I think Joep would have told us to just keep moving,” Dr. Dybul said.

So what are some of the signs of movement here in Melbourne?

The Global Fund and U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have committed to measuring progress toward ending the epidemic.

Dr. Dybul has reiterated that the Global Fund will no longer measure its performance based largely on outputs (e.g., HIV tests administered, patients started on treatment, and condoms distributed). Instead, it will judge its impact based on outcomessuch as measurable reductions in HIV incidence – that can change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.

The new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx, has made a similar commitment to measuring what matters, as reflected by this week’s launch of the PEPFAR Dashboard, an online tool that monitors the impact of U.S.-funded programs in dozens of countries and lets users see how it spends its resources.

There is growing momentum to tackle the #DeadlyDuo of TB/HIV.

Tuberculosis remains the leading cause of death for people living with HIV, but many countries still treat TB and HIV as distinct health challenges, often forcing patients to shuttle back and forth between separate clinics. This situation creates serious costs and delays, and many people drop out of treatment completely. A new report by ACTION is urging countries and donors to work together to ensure the full integration of TB/HIV services. It’s a patient-centered approach that can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

The TB Alliance has released more data on the Phase IIB trial results of PaMZ – a new combination regimen to treat tuberculosis. The results show that PaMZ performed nearly twice as well as the standard therapy for tuberculosis, and the Australian Government has indicated that it may to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other funders in advancing PaMZ to a Phase III trial later this year. (For more information on R&D for TB, the Australian global health advocacy group Policy Cures has released a new report on next-generation tools to fight TB.)

Police are joining forces with HIV experts to help sex workers and drug users “arrest” AIDS.

Law enforcement practices can often drive the people who are most at risk of acquiring HIV away from life-saving health services. When police treat possession of condoms or needles as evidence of criminal intent, sex workers and drug users can abandon the tools that can keep them free from infection. But according to a new report by Open Society Foundations, police in a growing number of countries, from Kyrgyzstan to Kenya, are working in partnership with at-risk groups to help link them to the health services they need.

Six million males in Africa have embraced voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). 

New data released by the World Health Organization at the conference show that VMMC – which can reduce a male’s chance of becoming infected with HIV by up to 60% - is taking off as a prevention practice in the 14 sub-Saharan countries with the highest prevalence of HIV. Moreover, new research released at the conference suggests that men who have been circumcised aren't more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior (a concern that has been expressed by some HIV experts). And another study has provided evidence that male circumcision may have indirect health benefits for women, including a lower risk of acquiring syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.

To learn more about the International AIDS Conference, click here. To l
earn more about the Gates Foundation's HIV Strategy, click here.
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