Melbourne is hosting the 20th International AIDS Conference and local co-chair Sharon Lewin is here to walk us through it
As you’d expect from its name, the International AIDS Conference is the largest global get-together that brings people from all over the world to discuss AIDS and strategies with a scientific, medical, cultural, political and activist approach. It is, as Melbourne-based co-chair Sharon Lewin explains, “the one place where you get that incredible diversity of response, and that is critical to keeping the message that HIV is not over yet, and there are still very significant challenges.”
This is the first time the biannual conference has been held in Australia, which is part of the Asia-Pacific region. “There are six million people living with HIV in the region, and it’s very different epidemic to what we see in Africa, where the numbers are much higher,” says Lewin. Australia has a strong history with AIDS awareness and strategies, dating back to the early 1980s, which is one reason why Melbourne was chosen to host this year. “We were also pretty bold in working with the gay community, which at the time was a very mysterious group that hadn’t been involved in public health policy, and they got very well organised very quickly.”
This year the conference is focussing on the stigma and discrimination attached to the virus. “About 80 countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality, and that works against public health because people won’t identify themselves with belonging with this group, won’t get tested and won’t want treatment,” Lewin explains. Funding, scientific advances and the search for a vaccine will also be strong themes this year.
It’s not all talk, though. The Melbourne Exhibition Centre will be hosting a Global Village display, free to the public to visit. “It’s a space that’s really colourful from communities all around the world that includes photographic exhibitions, dance and public speaking to create a wider community engagement. People from over 180 countries will be talking about their lives and HIV, and how it touches all aspects of society.”
There’ll also be satellite and affiliated cultural programmes and events for Melbourne to engage with, including exhibitions at the NGV, performances, plays, parties, a candlelight vigil and spectacular Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The town will also be painted – and lit – red during the conference, so you’ll certainly know that the conference is in town.
Top 5 speakers at AIDS 2014
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The Australian retired Supreme Court judge is a big advocate for human rights and HIV will be speaking on Tuesday July 22 at a session titled ‘What’s holding us back and how do we move faster?’
Dr Mark Dybul
The head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that currently funds most of the HIV programs around the world. He'll also be speaking at ‘What’s holding us back and how do we move faster?’
Mr Sidibé is the Executive Director of UNAIDS, the United Nations body set up to deal with HIV/AIDS will be speaking at the Opening Ceremony.
Daisy Nakato Namakula
A sex worker and activist from Uganda living with HIV will be speaking on Wednesday July 23 at a session titled ‘No one left behind’.
A local Nobel Prize winner who discovered how immune systems get rid of viruses.