The Montreal organizer of the 24th International AIDS Conference says the event helped highlight the huge advances being made in HIV research and treatment technologies.
Dr Jean-Pierre Routy, local president of the international conference, believes that the biggest breakthrough of this 24th edition will have been research which shows that a single injection of a long-lasting antiretroviral drug can prevent people from contracting a HIV infection for two months, rather than taking pills every day. Other research presented during the five-day conference, which ended on Tuesday, shows that a cure is possible to cure HIV and that progress has been made, although it takes time, said underlined Mr. Routy. “The advances in knowledge are enormous,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. They didn’t lead to treatment today, but we’re getting closer. »
As the event drew to a close, speakers often referred to visa issues and refusals to enter Canada that prevented hundreds of delegates from attending the Montreal conference, including employees of the International AIDS Society, the body that brings together the world’s AIDS experts and organized the conference. Professor Routy said he was “disappointed” with the Government of Canada, but he was still happy that people from 172 countries were present at the event. A majority of participants came from developing countries. But Tinashe Rufurwadzo, director of programs, management and governance at “Y+ Global”, an international organization of HIV-positive young people, gives a bittersweet assessment of this “AIDS 2022″ conference.
He admits that attendees were able to have encounters that might not have been possible otherwise, such as with government officials and pharmaceutical executives. But he regrets that many voices have not been heard because of visa problems. More than 9,000 people were expected to attend in person, and another 2,000 registered to participate online. Those who were there were able to meet government officials and pharmaceutical company executives, contacts that are otherwise nearly impossible for young activists. The only place where we can join them is here, when we have a coffee after the sessions. This is where people are easily accessible,” observes Mr. Rufurwadzo.
As for online participants, even if the event took place in a hybrid format, access was not easy for everyone. Mr. Rufurwadzo points out that the prohibitive cost of data in several African countries does not allow everyone to participate fully in the exchanges.
Jean-Pierre Routy would also like to mention that the conference made it possible to put pressure on Canada to get things moving. On Monday, the federal government announced a commitment of $17.9 million to improve access to HIV self-testing in remote areas and among hard-to-reach communities. “This money is welcome and it goes directly to the weaknesses of our system. It’s a great effort from Canada, even if it comes a little late, commented Mr. Routy. What matters is that things change and that this conference leads to changes in mentality. About half of the amount promised by Ottawa will be dedicated to the distribution of self-testing tests. Since people who know their infection status can access treatments to protect themselves and to prevent transmission of the virus to their partners, this is a step in the right direction.
Other people working with people living with HIV are wondering how the test kits will be distributed. They are also concerned about the support that will be offered to people who test positive. The emotional charge of such news can be particularly heavy to bear. They also hope to see HIV testing become standard practice. Many fear that young people will be shown the door by their parents if they discover that they have a self-testing kit in their possession. Protesters present for the closing remarks of federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos also criticized the lack of funding for follow-up care.
Photo credit: Screenshot from https://aids2022.org/