TOPICS > Health

AIDS Conference Returns to U.S. For First Time Since 1990

July 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to Dr. Diane Havlir, U.S. Co-Chair of AIDS 2012 and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Joseph Elias, Global Village Coordinator, about the AIDS Conference being held in Washington D.C. and how the gathering hopes they can 'begin to end the AIDS epidemic.'

RAY SUAREZ: Hi. I’m Ray Suarez. I’m joined by Diane Havelar (Ph) co-chair of the International AIDS conference and Joseph Elias(Ph) from the Global Village at AIDS 2012 and it’s sort of a gathering of the clans. People are coming from all over the world to Washington for the conference. Why hasn’t it been here in a long time, Professor?

DIANE HAVELAR, U.S. Co-Chair of AIDS 2012: Well in order for the International AIDS conference to be hosted by the country, there have to allow people living with HIV to enter. Until 2009, the United Stated had a policy that prohibited persons living with HIV of entering, of entering the United States. In 2009, that ban was lifted by President Obama, when he told us that this ban was based on fear not fact. And fortunately now we’re to able to hold the conference and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

RAY SUAREZ: I bet a lot of people don’t realize, you couldn’t get a vi-, a visa, if you were a foreign national who was HIV positive. And that must have sent quite a message through the world community that one of the leading research nations, one of the leading donor nations to the fight against AIDS, was keeping HIV positive people out.

DIANE HAVELAR: Well, I think–

RAY SUAREZ: Are we back in the world’s good graces?

DIANE HAVELAR: We’re back in the world’s good graces,. I think this is what the AIDS, the international AIDS conference is about. Having it back here in the United States, one of the significant elements of it, represents a human rights victory. We certainly hope that all nations join us in that particular cause

RAY SUAREZ: Joseph, what’s the global village?

JOSEPH ELIAS, Coordinator, The Global Village: The Global village is, is one of the community and civil society focal points of the conference. It’s where the community responds to HIV, the grassroots level at which people have been responding to dealing with HIV, worldwide, comes together to really showcase the best things that they’ve been  doing. The way they can learn from each other and how not only how they can learn from each other, but how science community and leadership can learn from each other

RAY SUAREZ: Is HIV one of those health challenges where the grassroots really has mattered, techniques, public health education techniques have bubbled up rather than being top down?

JOSEPH ELIAS: Well I think Diane can probably handle that question a lot better than I can.

DIANE HAVELAR: Really, AIDS I think is the only illness where we have a meeting every two years that brings together high-level policy makers, scientists, community members, all in one place to talk about how we’re going to move it all forward.

RAY SUAREZ: So what does that consist of? I mean is it a bunch of people in lab coats or is it something much more than that?

DIANE HAVELAR: Well everyone is mixing all together. And we can take any problem that we have with AIDS, let’s say the prevention of mother to child transition to what’s the science behind it, how do we do it? Turns out we know how to do it with medication. Could we need to help us do, do it, we need to have funding agencies that provide the money for us. Where’s this money gonna come from? With a community perspective, what programs are going to work for them? What programs are not working for them? So as opposed to having three separate meetings which actually often happens in health, this is a meeting where everybody’s all in the same place. WE have sessions called bridging sessions, where these groups all get in one room, and talk about a singular problem

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier conferences were pretty desperate affairs. The news coming back from the rest of the world was pretty bad, this was a disease that was out of control in many places on the planet and it was, for want of a better term, kind of a downer. But it seems like the news is better from the frontlines, isn’t it Joseph?

JOSEPH ELIAS: Yeah, I mean you know, we are receiving a lot of fantastic people and fantastic organizations wanting to be part of the conference where they can really showcase, I mean, what’s important to them and what’s important to their communities, is really the focal point there. And moving forward is getting them to a working partnership with who, you know, who’s involved, who’s important, you know, the leaders, the science people and making sure that, you know, that they, they, they can share that. And I think here that conference here as Diane was saying; the conference is a really good opportuin0tuy, for people from, you know, people from south east Asia to talk to people, from Africa, people from Latin American countries to talk to people in the pacific, so it’s really a fantastic opportunity to really have that exchange of ideas and best practice.

RAY SUAREZ: What can we expect to come out of this conference? The message that AIDS 2012 wants to tell the rest of the world about the fight against the disease?

DIANE HAVELAR: Well, we think that we can begin to end the AIDS epidemic, we think that’s pretty big news. So the last time this conference was in the United States was 1990 and as you mentioned things were grim. The epidemic was spiral, spiraling out of control, we had absolutely no sustained treatment for it. We feel like, we felt like we were losing the battle. Things are very different now. And they’re different because of the last three years, we’ve had a series of scientific breakthroughs and some very, very recently that tell us how we can curb the number of new infections of people living with HIV and also we have much more promising hopes and aspirations about both a cure for HIV and a vaccine for HIV, which is how we’ll truly end the epidemic. But this is the first time ever, we have gone public as an AIDS movement and said we think we can begin to end the AIDS epidemic.

RAY SUAREZ: So going along with the good news, is there also a caution that we not run up the victory flag too soon? That the, the change of the image, not of ravaged, suffering people but of people living successfully with aids, might actually send a too comforting message about how vigilant we still have to be?

JOSEPH ELIAS: Well I think what the focus which Diane was really touching on there, is what we’re trying to do is, is really showcase and, and, and really, put a face to every face that’s experiencing HIV, whether they’re infected or affected. You and  So for us it’s really about making sure that every experience, every story is being told and I think that’s one of the, the fantastic things about the Global village. Because it’s the free part of the conference and because the commits and civil society can come along and heed those stories and listen and also see the pictures and meet these people. It’s a great humanizing aspect to the reality of that everyone has a story. Everyone is you know, affected and some people are infected. So really it’s just a, really just, the focal point is around that.

RAY SUAREZ: Joseph Elias, the Global Village at AIDS 2012. And Doctor Havelar. Thanks a lot.

JOSEPH ELIAS: Thank you.