Anglicans at International AIDS Conference to keep HIV at the top of global health agenda

5 August 2014

Here Elijah FUNG, the Centre Manager at St. John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre, reports on the 20th International AIDS Conference, which took place at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre from 20th-25th July 2014.

‘Stepping up the Pace’ was the theme of the Conference, which recognised that we are at a critical time and we need to capture the optimism that has recently emerged and build on it to ensure that HIV remains on top of the global agenda. The pace needs to further increase to ultimately reverse the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.

The Conference aimed to break down barriers including stigma, discrimination and repressive policies, attitudes and practices which have fuelled the AIDS epidemic over the past 30 years. It also aimed to scale up efforts within the key affected populations (including homosexuals, sex workers, people living with HIV, transgender people and people who use drugs).

Almost 13,000 delegates from different sectors such as scientists, researchers, advocates, business representatives, community and faith-based workers, and volunteers from 200 countries were present.

A series of events amongst different communities – such as the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV, Choral Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne to mark the beginning of the AIDS 2014 Conference and AIDS 2014 Interfaith Service, and a Pre-Youth Conference – were organised prior to and during the main AIDS Conference.

The six-day Conference included plenary sessions, workshops, panel discussions and debates on AIDS development, film screenings, art exhibits, networking zones focusing on key populations and other relevant performances held at the Global Village. It was the first time that more attention and priority was given to youth at an international conference.

Globally, over 35 million people are currently living with HIV; at least 5 million of those infected are young people aged between 15 and 24.  Nearly 40% of all new HIV infections occur in people under the age of 25.

Since 2001, the AIDS response has stopped 10 million new HIV infections and avoided more than 7 million deaths. Today, nearly 14 million people are on life-saving HIV treatment.

Despite the great achievement and impressive progress in scaling up the use of contraceptives, counselling and testing, medical male circumcision, needle exchange and antiretroviral therapy coverage in low and middle income settings over the past decade, there were still 1.5 million people who died from HIV-related illnesses and 2.1 million people who became infected with HIV in 2013 – a rate of 6000 each day.

In many countries, there are still laws and policies which criminalise key affected populations such as sex workers and drug users.   For example, at least 76 countries in the world criminalise some form of same-sex intimacy, affecting an estimated 2.79 billion people. Thus, stigma and discrimination and barriers to get access to HIV testing and treatments are still strongly present at these countries.

Additionally, one third of all people living with HIV are in South Africa, Nigeria and India.  80% of those living with HIV live in just 20 countries, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa but also including larger middle income countries such as China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia and Thailand. Sadly, only 37% of people living with HIV in these countries are on AIDS treatment. The AIDS epidemic in low-income nations is inextricably linked to poverty.

The 20th World AIDS Conference called upon the world in “Leaving No One behind, ending AIDS by 2030”. 

This core message implies reducing new adult HIV infections and eliminating new infections among children; reducing stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV including among key populations; and reducing AIDS-related deaths.

To achieve this new target, all countries, governments and stakeholders must work together and scale up efforts by 2020 to achieve the following goals: 90% of people being tested; 90% of people living with HIV on treatment; and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads. 

Scaled-up efforts to treat and to prevent HIV need to be combined with activities to tackle the structural factors underlying the AIDS epidemic in key populations: stigma, legal barriers, social and gender norms. 

With half of the world’s population under 24, young people have a crucial role to play to end AIDS by 2030.  It is extremely important to involve and to empower young people who are both living with and affected by HIV with sufficient knowledge on AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and life skills to tackle the AIDS epidemic.

Since 2000 the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have guided international development policies and investments and significantly influenced HIV and broader health policies and programmes. Huge advances have been made in dealing with HIV infection and treatments.

It is encouraging to know that the post-2015 development framework will also have a specific focus on HIV, and make sure that AIDS is still on the international agenda.  HIV programmes have opportunities to link up with other post-2015 priority health areas, notably non-communicable diseases, mental health, and sexual and reproductive health.

To conclude, the 20th World AIDS Conference offered an opportunity to delegates to be empowered and strengthened with the latest AIDS development; to network with one another and identify new opportunities.

To reach our new target set at this Conference, “Leaving No One Behind, ending AIDS by 2030”, our governments, communities and stakeholders are challenged to scale up resources and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to tackle the AIDS-related issues.

In the pictures
Top:Elijah Fung and Fr Desmond Cox, member of the Anglican Alliance Advisory Council, with their presentation at the International AIDS Conference.
Bottom: St John’s Cathdral HIV Education Centre took an Anglican Alliance banner to the Conference to represent Anglican churches and agencies working on HIV/AIDS worldwide.