Top Five Takeaways from AIDS 2012
The last few weeks have been busy for the international sexual and reproductive health community: first, the Family Planning Summit in London, July 11, and then the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, July 22-27. At both, there were strong discussions and significant commitments to both improving access to family planning and addressing the AIDS epidemic.
Here are my five key takeaways from AIDS 2012:
1. Let’s please stop looking for a magic bullet fix for the epidemic. Each new tool and breakthrough is urgently needed and should be applauded, but what we really need is combination prevention. We need a range of strategies to meet the needs of the many different people living at risk in a variety of contexts.
2. Adherence to treatment needs community support. It is remarkable that we have now reached 8 million on treatment and the global AIDS community has committed to keeping up the momentum to set a goal of 15 million on treatment by 2015. This will include scale-up of treatment of pregnant women (requiring good links with antenatal care) and TB/HIV co-infected patients. But in order to support retention in treatment, we will have to ensure good community follow-up and support.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “If we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations.”Recently, and too often, the media portrays the HIV epidemic as shifting to a chronic disease with the help of anti-retroviral treatment (ART), but that is not the full story. Many people around the world are still living without the treatment and care they need, many are still dying from HIV-related illness. We must ensure all have access to treatment and that there is good follow through to support adherence as well.
3. Key populations must remain at the forefront. There is now (finally!) greater acknowledgement of the importance of—and value of—targeting and engaging key populations including men having sex with men (MSMs), sex workers, and injecting drug users. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “If we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations, and we can’t fail to reach the people who are at the highest risk.” When key populations are marginalized, it is devastating for the people themselves and for the fight against HIV. We must support their right to care and services, as well as foster a supportive social and legal environment.
In addition, in these economic times, we need smart investments that are evidence-based—and money should be going to where the epidemic, and science, leads us. Community engagement, advocacy, and local capacity development are important to address and engage these groups.
4. Adolescents and youth living with HIV are a key priority. Adolescents and youth are critical if we are to advance HIV prevention, care, and treatment goals—both those infected at birth and those infected later in life. Yet, there is very limited targeted intervention for this group that is growing in number. Half the world’s population is under 25 and they have important sexual and reproductive health needs; needs that adults often neglect to address. As more people who were infected as babies grow into adolescents, they need tailored care and treatment as well as comprehensive support to navigate sexuality, dating, disclosure, and desires for a healthy and productive life.
5. It takes a global village. At this year’s Global Village, I saw youth groups, women’s groups, church groups, community groups, nonprofits, international groups, donors and world leaders, and more. I’ve now attended the past 11 International AIDS Conferences—every one held since 1992—and it is heartening to see the progress we’ve made.
During this last mile we should not forget that we are only strong in our fight if we continue to stay united and work hand-in-hand with a variety of sectors. After all, HIV affects us all and all of us need to be part of the solutions that can finally bring about an AIDS-free generation.