It has been a week since the AIDS 2018 conference in Amsterdam ended. Before I get back into my everyday routine or even plan for the few remaining months of the year, I would like to reflect and share my thoughts on this year’s conference.
It is reported to be the biggest conference with more than 16,000 researchers, advocates, policy makers, funders, community leaders from more 160 countries. This is historic because more important and innovative ideas were shared in the effort to combat HIV.
I arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the main AIDS 2018 conference started. I noticed that the city was already prepared to welcome thousands of people coming to the conference. Public spaces, bridges, billboards, trains, buses and shopping centres were branded in red ribbons and thought provoking images imbedded with HIV/AIDS awareness messaging. To me, this initiative was not only created to build up publicity but to involve and encourage people of Amsterdam who were not part of the conference to engage and have conversations in their homes about the fight against AIDS.
Latest data highlighting challenges and successes thus far was shared through various forms such as scientific oral presentations, posters, dialogues and panel discussions. There was great excitement around the “U=U” campaign (Undetectable viral load = untransmittable HIV). Globally, there has been an overall decline in new HIV infections due to the fact that more people living with HIV are on ART and subsequently keeping their viral load suppressed, which means it is highly unlikely they would transmit HIV to their HIV negative partners. Unfortunately, most sessions reported that adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa are still becoming infected at much higher rates than young men. It is not all gloomy when it comes to HIV prevention. More work still needs to be done to educate, engage and involve adolescent girls and young women in coming up with solutions to HIV/AIDS collectively.
In my view, and a topic widely discussed at the conference is that there is no universal approach when it comes to combating HIV/AIDS. What works for older women might not work for adolescent girls and young women; what works for some men may not work for transgender women or men who have sex with men etc. More options for everyone are needed, whether for HIV prevention or treatment, for individuals to make informed choices on what fits their circumstances.
The presence of prominent leaders and celebrities using their influence to make their mark not only for their own publicity but pledging financial contribution is commendable. We need more leaders to come on board and demonstrate more commitment.
But the highlight for me was introducing the Inside My Purse blog. I was nervous about how the blog would be received especially by young women who attended the conference. The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic as I interacted with young women and people who are either working with young women or have adolescent children. Most people appreciated the fact that posts are relevant and describe real life experiences of young women in a simple and witty language. We truly appreciate all visitors to the Inside My Purse booth and those who signed up or visited the blog during the conference—thank you!
The #AIDS2018 conference has been more than just learning new information and engaging with different people. It has been about reflecting on what else I can do with regards to finding solutions to end HIV. ‘The journey continues…. see you at #AIDS2020!’
Photo Credit: ©International AIDS Society/Marcus Rose