President of the International AIDS Society speaks on the strategic importance of the upcoming International AIDS Conference

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President of the International AIDS Society speaks on the strategic importance of the upcoming International AIDS Conference

18 June 2012

Professor Elly Katabira, President of the International AIDS Society speaking on the strategic importance of the upcoming International AIDS Conference for the global AIDS response. UNAIDS Geneva. 15 June 2012. Credit: UNAIDS

Professor Elly Katabira, President of the International AIDS Society (IAS), visited UNAIDS on June 15 to speak on the strategic importance of the upcoming International AIDS Conference for the global AIDS response. The XIX International AIDS Conference will take place in Washington DC from July 22-27. Professor Katabira serves as the International Co-chair of the conference.

Unaids.org took the opportunity to talk to Professor Katabira about the significance of, and his expectations from the International AIDS Conference. He recounted the progress that has been made in the HIV response and stated that there is still the need to do more.

What is the importance and significance of the XIX International AIDS Conference?

The significance of this conference first of all is that it gives us the opportunity to go back to the United States after 22 years. Following the principles of IAS, we refused to go to the United States all these years mainly because of the existing restriction of entry into the country for people living with HIV. Once that restriction was lifted in 2009, it became important for us to go back.

In addition, it is important to recognise and appreciate the commitment to the AIDS response that the United States has shown over the years. The American people have not only contributed through PEPFAR but also in many other ways. Many of our people around the world have been trained in the American manner either within the United States or outside; a lot of the research which has made a big difference, including the current enjoyment of the drugs we have, has been done with the help of American funding.

Why Washington, D.C.?

One of our principles at IAS is that we choose a venue in order to influence the impact of the AIDS response within that venue. We know very well that the HIV epidemic in Washington DC is similar to epidemics existing in some resource limited settings. We want the conference to stimulate a better AIDS response to mitigate the impact of the epidemic within the city.

What are the specific outcomes that you are hoping will come out of this conference?

First of all, the conference is addressing three issues: science, community involvement and leadership and accountability.

The significance of this conference first of all is that it gives us the opportunity to go back to the United States after 22 years

Professor Elly Katabira, President of the International AIDS Society

We want to have quality science presented at the conference because the science presented here will shape the HIV response practices that we will have for the next few years. Therefore, we hope to have quality science which will help us to deliver better services for the people.

Community involvement is key to ensure science serves the needs of the communities. But also to ensure the community voices are heard and taken into account by scientists and leaders.

And of course the leadership and accountability; Leaders need to be aware of what they are doing as far as their countries are concerned and how their decisions impact on the HIV response. They need to be able to account for their successes as well as their failures. So it is important that both scientists and community representatives use this platform to deliver their messages widely.

Over the last three decades of the epidemic what progress and changes have you observed?

In the first decade, the best we could do was identify those infected and do the written records. Despite being a clinician, all I could do was pat them on their backs and eventually bury them. But over the years things have changed. Ten years ago drugs became available.

At the 1996 conference held in Vancouver, it became clear that with the right kind of HIV treatment, HIV-positive people could live longer. Unfortunately, we also became aware that this opportunity was not available to everyone or to the very countries which had the biggest burden.

Professor Elly Katabira, President of the International AIDS Society (right) with Luiz Loures UNAIDS Director, Political and Public Affairs Branch. UNAIDS Geneva. 15 June 2012.
Credit: UNAIDS

In 2000, during the Durban conference, a message was sent stressing the possibility to make HIV drugs available to the people who needed them no matter how poor they were and that made another difference. In fact, now it is back to us, the healthcare workers, to ensure that we do things right so that people living with HIV can lead a normal life and contribute to society as before. So those are some of the biggest breakthroughs.

Of course we still don’t have a vaccine, which we very much need since human beings are unlikely to continue taking medication for life. But there is hope as people are working to find a cure as well as on improving HIV treatment to ensure that transmission is reduced to zero.

Dr. Elly Tebasoboke Katabira is a Professor of Medicine and former Deputy Dean for Research, Faculty of Medicine at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. He is the author of more than 200 published scientific articles and abstracts. Professor Katabira took office as IAS President in July 2010. He has worked extensively in the field of care and support for people living with HIV for nearly 3 decades.