Leaders at AIDS 2022 warn that the world is losing ground against HIV

Despite scientific breakthroughs, millions of lives are still needlessly lost to HIV, and the world’s leading researchers are sounding the alarm bell warning that more needs to be done.

Adeeba Kamarulzaman, IAS President and International Co-Chair of AIDS 2022, has highlighted that there have been major setbacks over the last two years and it’s the most vulnerable that face the harshest effects.

“In the face of duelling pandemics, we are coming together to celebrate the resilience of our community and incredible advances in HIV prevention, treatment and cure research,” Kamarulzaman said ahead of the conference opening. “But let’s be clear, we have lost ground over the past two years and the most vulnerable have been hit hardest.

“That is why we’re bringing together the worlds of research, policy and activism at AIDS 2022 to restore momentum in the global HIV response. To overcome HIV, we must re-engage and follow the science.”

Kamarulzaman made her remarks as more than 9,500 in-person and nearly 2,000 virtual participants prepared to take part in the fully hybrid conference AIDS 2022. The 24th International AIDS Conference takes place from 29 July to August 2 in Montreal and virtually.

Speaking at the conferences opening session on Friday evening (Western Australian time) Kamarulzaman highlighted that the Coivd-19 pandemic had shown that the world could come together and make a significant impact in a short period of time.

“We saw what the global community is capable of with the Covid-19 vaccine, we need the same level of urgency, collaboration and financial investment for the HIV vaccine and cure initiatives, not to mention the broader HIV programs.”

“We are not on track to achieve our goals.” Kamarulzaman said. “We must do all we can get the HIV response back on track and meet our targets.”

Montreal Manifesto calls for equity and inclusion in global HIV response

On the eve of the conference, COCQ-SIDA (Coalition of Quebec Community Organizations in the Fight Against AIDS) launched the 2022 Montreal Manifesto, an update of the historic community declaration issued in 1989 when Montreal last hosted the conference.

COCQ-SIDA conducted a broad consultation in the hopes that all people living with and affected by HIV feel the demands in the manifesto reflect their own and use the manifesto as a tool to communicate their needs to those with the power to change things.

“We know that much has changed in HIV, especially in treatment, since 1989,” Ken Monteith, Executive Director of COCQ-SIDA, said. “We also know that access to the treatment miracles is not equitable and often fragile, and that very little progress has been made on human rights issues.”

The document is available in English, French and Spanish on the COCQ-SIDA website, and there is a link on that page to sign the manifesto in solidarity.

The manifesto calls on people, governments, international bodies, corporations, and health care professionals must take action “to ensure equitable distribution of the progress we have made and to remove the barriers to that equity in the form of laws, policies and attitudes.”

It lists a series of goals in the realms of human rights, prevention, testing, treatment, global equity, and research.

“We have the means and the knowledge to end HIV transmission now and the scientific capability to develop preventive and therapeutic vaccines and a cure for HIV if we commit to adequately funding the response to HIV and actively removing the legal and structural barriers that serve to imperil the health of vulnerable populations the world over.” the declaration states.

UNAIDS warns of faltering global response to HIV

Citing the 2022 UNAIDS Global AIDS update, titled In Danger, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima shared that about 1.5 million new HIV infections occurred in 2021 – over one million more than the global targets.

“These data show the global AIDS response in severe danger. If we are not making rapid progress then we are losing ground, as the pandemic thrives amidst COVID-19, mass displacement, and other crises. Let us remember the millions of preventable deaths we are trying to stop,” Byanyima said ahead of the conference.

The report revealed that an adolescent girl or young woman acquires HIV every two minutes. The UNAIDS report also showed that the number of people on HIV treatment increased more slowly in 2021 than it has in over a decade.

Other indicators of faltering progress include the fact that only 52% of children living with HIV have access to life-saving medicine, and that the gap in coverage between children and adults is increasing rather than narrowing.

“There were 650,000 AIDS-related deaths last year, a life lost every minute despite effective HIV treatment and tools to prevent, detect and treat opportunistic infections. Leaders must not mistake the huge red warning light for a stop sign,” Byanyima said.

“What we need to do is not a mystery. We know it from what we’ve repeatedly seen succeed across different contexts: shared science, strong services and social solidarity. We can end AIDS by 2030. But the curve will not bend itself. We have to pull it down, together.”

Addressing attendees at the conference’s official opening Byanyima said world leaders needed to act now to make an impact.

“We now have the tools to end the AIDS crisis in a matter of years, if world leaders act with courage and vision. I ask world leaders to picture, just as thousands of people in this hall do, a world in which through delivering justice and dignity, we have ended AIDS.

“A world where every girl in every country finishes secondary school. A world where everyone has quality health care, where everyone living with HIV has access to the best treatment science can offer.

“A world that has rejected stigma and repealed all discriminatory and punitive laws, where everyone from LGBTIQ people, to people in prisons, to people who use drugs, enjoy their full human rights and are accepted, respected, included.

Calling on global leaders to take action, Byanyima highlighted violence against women, lack of health care and inaction from politicians as the causes for the continuing level of deaths from HIV related illnesses.

“On the current trajectory millions more will die this decade. They are dying, not because life-saving treatments don’t exist, they are there. They are dying because inequalities and greed are smashing these legacies out of their hands.”

“Until everyone has access to the best that science can offer, until everyone has their full human rights, we will never end this, or any future pandemic.” Byanyima said.

AIDS 2022 is running from 29th July to 2 August. 

Graeme Watson 

You can support our work by subscribing to our Patreon
or contributing to our GoFundMe campaign.

Tags: , , ,