Melbourne prepares to host world's biggest AIDS Conference | Asia Pacific

Melbourne prepares to host world's biggest AIDS Conference

Melbourne prepares to host world's biggest AIDS Conference

Updated 18 July 2014, 13:12 AEST

The 20th International AIDS Conference which opens in Melbourne this weekend has been described as "a meeting of everyone affected by HIV" and more.

It brings together 14,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries, including a media contingent of 1,200 journalists, not to mention extensive coverage on Radio Australia all week.

AIDS 2014 co-chair Professor Sharon Lewin points to the 'three critical pillars' of science, leadership and community.

Professor Lewin says the current HIV situation is one of contrasts.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Professor Dr Sharon Lewin, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Alfred Hospital and Monash University. Professor Lewin is also co-head, Centre for Biomedical Research, Burnet Institute in Melbourne

LEWIN: It's a story of tremendous gains, but still much work to be done, and I think most encouraging the numbers of new infections of substantially decreased over the last decade, numbers of AIDS-related deaths have also decreased, advances in treatment and delivery of treatment is being spectacularly successfully, but still only 40 percent of people who need treatment are on treatment globally. So there's many challenges that lie ahead, which means getting treatment to people that need it, reducing stigma and discrimination that allows people most affected by the epidemic to access treatment and prevention messages, and still much to be done in the science to find a vaccine and a cure.
 
LAM: And how important are massive meetings, like AIDS 2014, how important are they in facilitating a response to HIV AIDS?
 
LEWIN: Well, AIDS 2014 is quite an unique meeting, it's completely multi-disciplinary.  It has three major programs within it, Science, Leadership and Community and those three pillars are really essential in getting advances in the HIV response. They've been critical in the past and I think they'll be critical going forward. So this is not just a meeting of usually boring scientists and clinicians, this is a meeting of everyone affected by HIV and everyone who can make a difference. And most importantly, that's the community and our political leaders.
 
LAM: And, how valuable is it, to be able to meet face-to-face in person?
 
LEWIN: I think the history speaks for its value, this meeting has often been associated with quantum shifts in the approach to the epidemic, of course, that doesn't happen at every meeting, but there are certainly some memorable ones. The most memorable for me in recent years is the meeting in 2000, in Durban, where the world became aware of the size of the problem in Africa and the fact that drugs were not being delivered to people who needed them and that led to a revolution in how we deliver drugs to low income countries and last year, there were 13 million people on anti-retroviral therapy in low and middle income countries, in 2000, there was close to no one on treatment.
 
LAM: Personally, on a personal level, what does this meeting mean to you AIDS 2014, what do you hope to get out of it?
 
LEWIN: Well, I think it's a wonderful opportunity for Australia, first of all, to showcase what we've done so well here, which includes a response that has always been characterised by true partnerships between governments, science and the community; some very progressive public health policies that we've had around education, prevention and access to clean needles; and for some spectacular science that many of our scientists and clinicians have delivered over many years. But at that same time, there's much for us to learn and I think in going forward, we've to learn to reduce new infections, we've got much to contribute, particularly to our region. I think the conference is also a fantastic opportunity for the greater community across Melbourne and across Australia, to really understand that HIV is a big problem and we still need to do quite a bit to address it and we have an unique opportunity now to really make a difference.
 
LAM: And tell us about the global village at AIDS 2014.  If UN AIDS in Bangkok last year is anything to go by, it's quite festive, isn't it, bringing together different layers of communities, perhaps?
 
LEWIN: Yes, the Global Village is actually a very unique part of the conference, first of all, it's free and open to the public, it's a space where communities can showcase what they've done and what's important in their response, be it transgender people, being it men who have sex with men, people with TB, women affected by HIV, but it's done in a very colourful, Rio carnival-like atmosphere. There are photographic exhibitions, there's music, there's dance, there's public lectures, and there's people from every part of the planet and everyone there has a pretty unique story to tell. So I really encourage members of the public to go and have a look. It's in the Exhibition Centre on Spencer Street, in Melbourne, and free and open to the public.
 
LAM: Are we expecting any major announcements at next week's meetings?
 
LEWIN: Well, we're expecting a lot of excellent science, excellent science related to new treatments for hepatitis-C and tuberculosis, which are both very common infections that occur in people living with HIV, excellent new findings in relation to the impact of prevention campaigns or prevention intervention, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis and circumcision and a lot of discussion and debate about vaccine and cure. We've got a lot of leaders from many parts of the world, including Australia, we have some very high level presentations from President Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof, ministers of health from multiple countries and maybe many of them will have something exciting to say.
 

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