AIDS2014, the global bi-annual HIV/AIDs conference, was held in Melbourne this year at the Exhibition and Conference Centre. Woroni News Correspondent Nina Haysler reports on the conference.

AIDS2014 is a 5-day long conference that is held every second year to share scientific and innovative discoveries relating to HIV/AIDs research and to discuss issues relating to HIV/AIDs advocacy and community work.

The conference attracted over 13,600 delegates who travelled from across the globe, to share information, celebrate the successes of 30 years’ worth of research and advocacy, and postulate on what still needs to be done. Notable speakers included former United States President Bill Clinton, activist and musician Bob Geldof, Nobel Prize Laureate and the woman who helped identify the HIV virus Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Michael Kirby former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

The key messages taken from the conference was that the last yards in the fight against HIV/AIDs still needs to be done. A reoccurring fact presented at the conference was that adolescents, defined as those aged 10-19, experienced a rapid increase in deaths related to HIV/AIDs.

Removing the stigma attached to HIV/AIDs and being HIV positive was also a reoccurring goal of the conference. In particular, the focus of advocacy was aimed at “key communities”, which are defined as populations that are particular susceptible to HIV. These key populations include men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs and sex workers. The need to continue on preventing the spread of the virus, and in particular in arming the key communities with the information and tools necessary to combat HIV was also focused upon.

Also emphasised was the fact there was bipartisan support for HIV/AIDS initiatives during the Australian ‘epidemic’ in the 1980s, through the leadership of Neal Blewett and Peter Baume. These initiatives included a media awareness campaign and work with key communities to help reduce the promulgation of the virus. As one of the leading nations in HIV/AIDs support, Australia was encouraged to continue a leading role in the fight against HIV/AIDs.

The spirit of the conference was high and the attitudes of the delegates were positive. However, tributes to the 100 delegates of the AIDS2014 conference that were on Flight MH17 were felt and placed around the conference.

Upon entering the Global Village there were a range of different stalls, held by various non-for-profit organisations, community groups, and charities that support key communities susceptible to HIV and HIV positive people.

An initiative called “Comdomize” had a stall where they offered walk-a-buys bags of condoms. The stall also demonstrated, at two locations in the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the female condom that is soon to be available to Australian buyers and other contraceptive devices.

The Global Village was accessible to the wider public, whereas to attend the conferences plethora of plenaries and sessions one was required to purchase a ticket, prices of which were based on the economic status of your home country.

There was a strong sense of community at the conference, notably; there was a HIV positive lounge for delegates who were HIV positive which acted as a safe space for these delegates to communicate their experiences with each other. There was also a lounge for the politicians and diplomats who attended the conference.

In the LGBTI session, however, there were some tensions around the involvement of politicians at the conference. According to the chair of the session, Dennis Altman, the politicians and diplomats often failed to interact with HIV positive people because they had their own isolated lounges.

The closing ceremony of the conference ended on a high, with singing, awards and a transfer of the Presidency of the International Aids Society to Chris Beyrer, the first openly gay person to be the president of the society.

The next AIDS conference will be held in Durban, South Africa in 2016.

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