International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) opened in Melbourne, Australia, on
Sunday evening overshadowed by the deaths of 298 passengers aboard Malaysian
Airlines flight MH17. Six delegates on their way to the conference were amongst
those killed, including Professor Joep Lange, a former President of the
International AIDS Society.
A one-minute global
moment of remembrance was held in honour of the delegates who lost their lives at
the beginning of the opening ceremony with eleven former, present and future
Presidents of the International AIDS Society onstage together with representatives
from those organisations who lost colleagues, the World Health Organization, AIDS
Fonds, Stop AIDS Now, The Female Health Company, the Amsterdam Institute for
Global Health and Development and members of the Dutch HIV research community.
“The extent of the loss
of our colleagues and friends is still hard for me to comprehend or express”. Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the current
President of the International AIDS Society, told delegates, “The extent of the loss
of our colleagues and friends is still hard for me to comprehend or express”.
Numerous tributes to Professor Joep Lange’s three-decade career in HIV medicine
and advocacy have emphasised his central role in pioneering access to
affordable combination antiretroviral therapy in lower-income countries.
Professor Lange was also an early advocate for the necessity of using triple regimens
of antiretroviral drugs from different classes in order to control HIV
Joep Lange “has
always told us to keep our eye on the ball and to pursue the end of the AIDS
pandemic," said Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in a video statement.
In his plenary address,
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé told delegates that the UN was
committed to ending AIDS by 2030 and at a UNAIDS satellite meeting he made it
clear what this meant: 90% of people with HIV diagnosed, 90% of diagnosed
people on treatment and 90% of those on treatment with undetectable viral load
by 2020. If this goal could be achieved, says UNAIDS, 73% of people living with
HIV will have fully suppressed viral load by 2020, greatly reducing HIV
transmission and substantially reducing deaths from AIDS. This target would
require greatly increased treatment coverage: worldwide approximately 37% of
people living with HIV are receiving treatment but coverage varies widely
conference theme of 'Stepping up the pace', activists
at the conference pressed for undetectable viral load for all by 2020 and
called for action to ensure that viral load testing and antiretroviral
treatment are fully funded.
“Now, more than ever, we must
concentrate our limited resources on where most infections occur and on where
most people die,” said Sidibé. “The world needs a new “catch-up” plan for the 15
countries that account for 75% of new HIV infections.”
The conference will also
feature a new emphasis on key populations – men who have sex with men, sex
workers, people who inject drugs, transgender women – who have a heightened
vulnerability to HIV infection but also suffer from discrimination and
criminalisation. The World
Health Organization recently issued new guidance on HIV prevention,
diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations.