It's the Superbowl of HIV/AIDS.
The International AIDS Conference (AIDS2012), sponsored by the International AIDS Society, kicked off on Sunday night in Washington D.C. with opening remarks from legendary singer Sir Elton John and appearances from AIDS heavy hitters such and Bill Gates, Annie Lennox, Bill Clinton and Alicia Keys. This is the first time in 22 years that the conference has been held in the U.S. In 2009, President Obama lifted a travel ban that restricted people living with HIV/AIDS from other countries from entering this country.
It's important to note that this conference is not just about the celebrities or the well-funded groups such as amfar, UNAIDS and MAC AIDS Fund. This conference, whose motto is "Turning the Tide Together,” will bring together more than 20,000 researchers, advocates and people living with HIV/AIDS from around the world to release key findings from recent studies, share strategies on improving the lives of people both HIV-positive and negative and talk about the pressing issues that make people more vulnerable to contracting HIV.
Some of the biggest topics that are going to be discussed throughout the week include Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), addressing the epidemic among men who have sex with men from around the world, equal access to treatment, more practical prevention strategies, and gender inequality and HIV risk, to name a few.
It’s especially fitting that the conference is being held in Washington, D.C., given the high HIV rates in our nation's capital. In 2010, data showed that 2.7 percent of all people over the age of 12living in D.C. were HIV positive—numbers comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa.
“What you see now in the District, the numbers are scary,” said Kareem Murphy, a local lobbyist who is a member of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which will serve as a meeting point for conference attendees.
“The city feels like it’s asleep to the reality of the existence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS,” Murphy said, adding that many of the city’s hardest-hit populations are in areas far from the center of power.
The District was chosen in part for this reason, said Chris Beyrer, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University who is on the governing council of the International AIDS Society. “We try and select cities where we can use the conference as a tool to try to engage awareness in the local population,” he said.
Also, there will be many presentations and much visibility about the AIDS epidemic in Black America at AIDS2012, which is greatly needed. Overall, while African-Americans make up a mere 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, we account for almost half of all new HIV infections that are diagnosed each year. It's estimated that 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 32 Black women. And new infections among African-American youth are on the rise.
To learn more about the workshops, presentations and events geared for African-Americans and the African Diaspora at AIDS2012, go here.
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(Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images)
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