Town hall on reshaping the future of the AIDS response sets the tone for International AIDS Conference

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Town hall on reshaping the future of the AIDS response sets the tone for International AIDS Conference

18 July 2010


Ahead of the official opening of the XVIII International AIDS Conference, a town hall event saw the coming together of influential leaders in the AIDS response to share their insights of what the future of HIV prevention and treatment must look like if the goal of zero new infections and zero AIDS deaths is to be reached by 2015.

Organized by UNAIDS and the International AIDS Society (IAS), the town hall event “Towards a paradigm shift in HIV treatment and prevention” engaged dynamic leaders Kgalema Motlanthe, Deputy President of South Africa, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Julio Montaner, President of the International AIDS Society, in a discussion on HIV prevention, treatment, investments and human rights.

The Deputy President of South Africa underscored his country’s commitment to the HIV response despite the financial crisis that threaten gains made, such as increased access to treatment and for the first time declining rates of new HIV infections among young people.

“Even as the world experiences an economic downturn, investments in the fight against HIV must not be the soft target for austerity measures,” said Mr. Motlanthe. “South Africa has prioritized the AIDS response as an investment in life, hope, health systems, and human development with the view to improve the quality of life.”

By taking AIDS further out of isolation, the Deputy President underscored that his country could see significant reductions in maternal and infant deaths. He called on all countries to renew the commitment to universal access by bringing it in line with the MDG timeframe of 2015.

We need drugs that are cheaper, easier to administer, and diagnostics that are simpler to use. Treatment for prevention is not just a dream. It is possible if we share the responsibility.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé

Following Mr. Motlanthe’s speech, Mr. Sidibé spoke on Treatment 2.0, a radically simplified treatment platform that UNAIDS believes could have secondary benefits for prevention. “Let’s be realistic: Costs for treatment are rising. People are starting to lose hope and we need to bring the hope back,” said Mr. Sidibé. “We need drugs that are cheaper, easier to administer, and diagnostics that are simpler to use. Treatment for prevention is not just a dream. It is possible if we share the responsibility.”

Together with Treatment 2.0, Mr. Sidibé said a ‘prevention revolution’ is required to break the trajectory of the epidemic. He said this revolution will not happen without “prevention diplomacy” with the leaders like those who were assembled at the town hall.

Julio Montaner, IAS President, shared his optimism for the merging of prevention and treatment efforts and said that by treating more people, new HIV infections can be reduced.

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Following the opening segment, the town hall’s host, James Chau, news anchor with China Central Television (CCTV) and a UNAIDS National Goodwill Ambassador for China, engaged the audience in an interactive panel discussion on prevention and treatment with Barbara Lee, US Congresswoman, 9th District of California, Rolake Odetoyinbo, Executive Director of Positive Action for Treatment Access, Mphu Ramatlapeng, Minister of Health and Social Welfare of Lesotho, and Claudia Ahumada of the World AIDS Campaign.

The panellists shared their personal perspectives of the challenges and progress in implementing HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services as well as ensuring human rights.

The town hall featured a special appearance of UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox who spoke passionately on why she is engaged in the response.

“I don’t want to see any mother die of a preventable disease. Why should that be?” she asked the audience. “HIV is the leading killer of women of reproductive age globally. Why doesn’t the world respond to this? I will keep campaigning until we see the kind of changes Michel Sidibé is talking about.”

Ms Lennox closed the event by asking the leaders and activists who shared the stage and those in the audience to “recommit to the response and take it further.”