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Int’l AIDs conference opens in solemn mood

Publication Date : 21-07-2014

 

 The 20th International AIDS conference opened on Sunday at the Melbourne Convention Center with touching tributes to the six delegates who lost their lives aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

A one-minute global moment of remembrance was held in their honor with 11 former, present and future presidents of the International AIDS society (IAS) on stage together with representatives from those organisations that lost colleagues, from the World Health Organisation (WHO), AIDS Fonds, Stop AIDS Now, the Female Health Company, the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development as well as members of the Dutch HIV research community.

The victims included Joep Lange, the former president of the International AIDS Society. Lange was a leading light in the field since the early days of HIV and worked unceasingly to widen access to antiretroviral (ARV) medicines around the world.

Lambert Grijn, the Dutch Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, read out a letter of condolence and support for families and friends affected by the tragedy.

In the opening speech, IAS president Françoise Barre-Sinoussi said in deep sadness: “I would love to be telling you that we were opening this conference in a happier time, but to the extent of the loss of our colleagues and friends, it is still hard for me to comprehend and to express.”

“We dedicate AIDS 2014 to them. We will remember their legacy and forever keep them in our hearts,” she continued.

Two years after the 19th AIDS conference in Washington DC, the world has seen much scientific progress in the fight against AIDS and related infections.

“We need to step up the pace. The official AIDS 2014 theme, ‘Stepping up the Pace’, reminds us that many countries are still struggling to address their HIV epidemic,” said Sharon Lewin, professor of medicine at Monash University and co-chair of the 20th conference, adding there were 4.8 million people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we unfortunately are seeing a very different pattern in several countries in our region, with increasing numbers of infections in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines in 2013,” said Lewin.

One of the key speakers at the opening ceremony was Ayu Oktariani, a young female proponent of the Indonesian Positive Woman’s Network, Youth LEAD and women living with HIV in Indonesia.

Along with 20 young people living with HIV from the Asia-Pacific region dressed in their traditional costumes, Ayu spoke bravely about the challenges she has faced as a woman living with HIV in Indonesia.

“I was born and grew up in Indonesia. In my home, many barriers have prevented young people’s voices from being heard,” said Ayu with loud applause from the audience. “I am asking all young people living with HIV and those who care about us to join hands and work together to make a better world where young people get the information needed and all people living with HIV are treated with respect,” she added.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé said access to ARV therapy (ART) was improving. In 2013, an additional 2.3 million people gained access to the life-saving medicine. This brings the global number of people accessing ART to nearly 13 million by the end of 2013.

 

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