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AIDS conference honors 6 delegates killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

An international AIDS conference opened in Australia on July 20 with a tribute to several delegates who were killed en route to the gathering when their plane was shot down over Ukraine.

Officials at the opening ceremony for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne held a moment of silence for the six AIDS researchers and activists killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

All 298 people on board the plane died when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile on July17 as it flew over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

Among the passengers was prominent Dutch researcher Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society, and World Health Organization spokesman Glenn Thomas, based in Geneva.

Around 12,000 scientists and activists from 200 countries are attending the conference to discuss the latest developments in HIV and AIDS research.

The president of the International Aids Society, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, dedicated the conference to those who were killed, and a candlelight vigil will be held on July 22 to commemorate their lives. Condolence books were also being passed around for attendees to sign.

“It’s a really important time for what we think everyone needs, which is a space to grieve and to respect the six members of our community that died on MH17,” conference co-chair Sharon Lewin said.

Hillary Clinton addresses AIDS conference

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the International AIDS Conference on July 23, delivering her remarks at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

The following is a transcript provided by the White House:

Good morning, and – (applause) – now, what would an AIDS conference be without a little protesting?  We understand that.  (Applause.)  Part of the reason we’ve come as far as we have is because so many people all over the world have not been satisfied that we have done enough.  And I am here to set a goal for a generation that is free of AIDS.  (Applause.)  But first, let me say five words we have not been able to say for too long:  “Welcome to the United States.”  (Applause.)  We are so pleased to have you all finally back here. 

And I want to thank the leaders of the many countries who have joined us.  I want to acknowledge my colleagues from the Administration and the Congress who have contributed so much to the fight against AIDS.  But mostly, I want to salute all of the people who are here today who do the hard work that has given us the chance to stand here in 2012 and actually imagine a time when we will no longer be afflicted by this terrible epidemic and the great cost and suffering it has imposed for far too long.  (Applause.)  On behalf of all Americans, we thank you. 

But I want to take a step back and think how far we have come since the last time this conference was held in the United States.  It was in 1990 in San Francisco.  Dr. Eric Goosby, who is now our Global AIDS Ambassador, ran a triage center there for all the HIV-positive people who became sick during the conference.  They set up IV drug drips to rehydrate patients.  They gave antibiotics to people with AIDS-related pneumonia.  Many had to be hospitalized and a few died.

Even at a time when the world’s response to the epidemic was sorely lacking, there were places and people of caring where people with AIDS found support.  But tragically, there was so little that could be done medically.  And thankfully, that has changed.  Caring brought action, and action has made an impact. 

The ability to prevent and treat the disease has advanced beyond what many might have reasonably hoped 22 years ago.  Yes, AIDS is still incurable, but it no longer has to be a death sentence.  That is a tribute to the work of countless people around the world – many of whom are here at this conference, others who are no longer with us but whose contributions live on.  And for decades, the United States has played a key role.  Starting in the 1990s under the Clinton Administration, we began slowly to make HIV treatment drugs more affordable, we began to face the epidemic in our own country.  And then in 2003, President Bush launched PEPFAR with strong bipartisan support from Congress and this country began treating millions of people.

Today under President Obama, we are building on this legacy.  PEPFAR is shifting out of emergency mode and starting to build sustainable health systems that will help us finally win this fight and deliver an AIDS-free generation.  It’s hard to overstate how sweeping or how crucial this change is.  When President Obama took office, we knew that if we were going to win the fight against AIDS we could not keep treating it as an emergency.  We had to fundamentally change the way we and our global partners did business.

So we’ve engaged diplomatically with ministers of finance and health, but also with presidents and prime ministers to listen and learn about their priorities and needs in order to chart the best way forward together.  Now I will admit that has required difficult conversations about issues that some leaders don’t want to face, like government corruption in the procurement and delivery of drugs or dealing with injecting drug users, but it has been an essential part of helping more countries manage more of their own response to the epidemic. 

We’ve also focused on supporting high-impact interventions, making tough decisions driven by science about what we will and will not fund.  And we are delivering more results for the American taxpayer’s dollar by taking simple steps – switching to generic drugs, which saved more than $380 million in 2010 alone.  (Applause.)

And crucially, we have vastly improved our coordination with the Global Fund.  Where we used to work independently of each other, we now sit down together to decide, for example, which of us will fund AIDS treatment somewhere and which of us will fund the delivery of that treatment.  That is a new way of working together for both of us, but I think it holds great results for all of us.  (Applause.) Now all of these strategic shifts have required a lot of heavy lifting.  But it only matters in the end if it means we are saving more lives – and we are.

Since 2009, we have more than doubled the number of people who get treatment that keeps them alive.  (Applause.)  We are also reaching far more people with prevention, testing, and counseling.   

And I want publicly to thank, first and foremost, Dr. Eric Goosby, who has been on the front lines of all this work since the 1980s in San Francisco.  (Applause.)  He is somewhere in this vast hall, cringing with embarrassment, but more than anyone else, he had a vision for what PEPFAR needed to become and the tenacity to keep working to make it happen.  And I want to thank his extraordinary partners here in this Administration, Dr. Tom Frieden at the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Raj Shah at USAID.  (Applause.)

Now, with the progress we are making together, we can look ahead to a historic goal:  creating an AIDS-free generation.  This is part of President Obama’s call to make fighting global HIV/AIDS at home and abroad a priority for this administration.  In July 2010, he launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which has reinvigorated the domestic response to the epidemic – especially important here in Washington D.C., which needs more attention, more resources, and smarter strategies to deal with the epidemic in our nation’s capital. 

And last November, at the National Institutes of Health, with my friend Dr. Tony Fauci there, I spoke in depth about the goal of an AIDS-free generation and laid out some of the ways we are advancing it through PEPFAR, USAID, and the CDC.  And on World AIDS Day, President Obama announced an ambitious commitment for the United States to reach 6 million people globally with lifesaving treatment.  (Applause.)

Now since that time I’ve heard a few voices from people raising questions about America’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation, wondering whether we are really serious about achieving it.  Well, I am here today to make it absolutely clear:  The United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation.  We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone.  (Applause.)

I know that many of you share my passion about achieving this goal.  In fact, one could say I am preaching to the choir.  But right now, I think we need a little preaching to the choir.  And we need the choir and the congregation to keep singing, lifting up their voices, and spreading the message to everyone who is still standing outside.

So while I want to reaffirm my government’s commitment, I’m also here to boost yours.  This is a fight we can win.  We have already come so far – too far to stop now. 

I want to describe some of the progress we’ve made toward that goal and some of the work that lies ahead.

Let me begin by defining what we mean by an AIDS-free generation.  It is a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus.  (Applause.)  Secondly, as children and teenagers become adults, they will be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected than they would be today no matter where they are living.  (Applause.)  And third, if someone does acquire HIV, they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.

So yes, HIV may be with us into the future until we finally achieve a cure, a vaccine, but the disease that HIV causes need not be with us.  (Applause.)

As of last fall, every agency in the United States Government involved in this effort is working together to get us on that path to an AIDS-free generation.  We’re focusing on what we call combination prevention.  Our strategy includes condoms, counseling and testing, and places special emphasis on three other interventions:  treatment as prevention, voluntary medical male circumcision, and stopping the transmission of HIV from mothers to children.

Since November, we have elevated combination prevention in all our HIV/AIDS work –including right here in Washington, which still has the highest HIV rate of any large city in our country.  And globally, we have supported our partner countries shifting their investments toward the specific mix of prevention tools that will have the greatest impact for their people.  For example, Haiti is scaling up its efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission, including full treatment for mothers with HIV, which will in turn, of course, prevent new infections.  And for the first time, the Haitian Ministry of Health is committing its own funding to provide antiretroviral treatment.  (Applause.)

We’re also making notable progress on the three pillars of our combination-prevention strategy.  On treatment as prevention, the United States has added funding for nearly 600,000 more people since September, which means we are reaching nearly 4.5 million people now and closing in on our national goal of 6 million by the end of next year.  That is our contribution to the global effort to reach universal coverage. 

On male circumcision, we’ve supported more than 400,000 procedures since last December alone.  And I’m pleased to announce that PEPFAR will provide an additional $40 million to support South Africa’s plans to provide voluntary medical circumcisions for almost half a million boys and men in the coming year.  (Applause.)  You know and we want the world to know that this procedure reduces the risk of female-to-male transmission by more than 60 percent and for the rest of the man’s life, so the impact can be phenomenal.

In Kenya and Tanzania, mothers asked for circumcision campaigns during school vacations so their teenage sons could participate.  In Zimbabwe, some male lawmakers wanted to show their constituents how safe and virtually painless the procedure is, so they went to a mobile clinic and got circumcised.  That’s the kind of leadership we welcome.  And we are also seeing the development of new tools that would allow people to perform the procedure with less training and equipment than they need today without compromising safety.  And when such a device is approved by the World Health Organization, PEPFAR is ready to support it right away.  (Applause.) 

And on mother-to-child transmission, we are committed to eliminating it by 2015, getting the number to zero.  Over the years – (applause) – we’ve invested more than $1 billion for this effort.  In the first half of this fiscal year, we reached more than 370,000 women globally, and we are on track to hit PEPFAR’s target of reaching an additional 1.5 million women by next year.  We are also setting out to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in getting to zero.  When women are identified as HIV-positive and eligible for treatment, they are often referred to another clinic, one that may be too far away for them to reach.  As a result too many women never start treatment.

Today, I am announcing that the United States will invest an additional $80 million to fill this gap.  These funds – (applause) – will support innovative approaches to ensure that HIV-positive pregnant women get the treatment they need to protect themselves, their babies, and their partners.  So let there be no mistake, the United States is accelerating its work on all three of these fronts in the effort to create an AIDS-free generation and look at how all these elements come together to make a historic impact.

In Zambia, we’re supporting the government as they step up their efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission.  Between 2009 and 2011, the number of new infections went down by more than half.  And we are just getting started.  Together, we’re going to keep up our momentum on mother-to-child transmission.  In addition, we will help many more Zambians get on treatment and support a massive scale-up of male circumcision as well, two steps that, according to our models, will drive down the number of new sexually transmitted infections there by more than 25 percent over the next 5 years.  So as the number of new infections in Zambia goes down, it will be possible to treat more people than are becoming infected each year.  So we will, for the first time, get ahead of the pandemic there.  And eventually, an AIDS-free generation of Zambians will be in sight.

Think of the lives we will touch in Zambia alone – all the mothers and fathers and children who will never have their lives ripped apart by this disease.  And now, multiply that across the many other countries we are working with.  In fact, if you’re not getting excited about this, please raise your hand and I will send somebody to check your pulse.  (Laughter and applause.)

But I know that creating an AIDS-free generation takes more than the right tools, as important as they are.  Ultimately, it’s about people – the people who have the most to contribute to this goal and the most to gain from it.  That means embracing the essential role that communities play – especially people living with HIV – and the critical work of faith-based organizations.  We need to make sure we’re looking out for orphans and vulnerable children who are too often still overlooked in this epidemic.  (Applause.) 

And it will be no surprise to you to hear me say I want to highlight the particular role that women play.  (Applause.)  In Sub-Saharan Africa today, women account for 60 percent of those living with HIV.  Women want to protect themselves from HIV and they want access to adequate health care.  And we need to answer their call.  PEPFAR is part of our comprehensive effort to meet the health needs of women and girls, working across United States Government and with our partners on HIV, maternal and child health, and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning and our newly launched Child Survival Call to Action.

Every woman should be able to decide when and whether to have children.  This is true whether she is HIV-positive or not.  (Applause.)  And I agree with the strong message that came out of the London Summit on Family Planning earlier this month.  There should be no controversy about this.  None at all.  (Applause.)

And across all of our health and development work, the United States is emphasizing gender equality because women need and deserve a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.  (Applause.)  And we are working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, which puts women at higher risk for contracting the virus.  And because women need more ways to protect themselves from HIV infection, last year we invested more than $90 million in research on microbicides.  All these efforts will help close the health gap between women and men and lead to healthier families, communities, and nations as well.

If we’re going to create an AIDS-free generation, we also must address the needs of the people who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV.  One recent study of female sex workers and those trafficked into prostitution in low and middle income-countries found that, on average, 12 percent of them were HIV-positive, far above the rates for women at large.  And people who use injecting drugs account for about one third of all the people who acquire HIV outside of Sub-Saharan Africa.  And in low-and middle income countries, studies suggest that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with male partners could be up to 19 times higher than among the general population. 

Now over the years, I have seen and experienced how difficult it can be to talk about a disease that is transmitted the way that AIDS is.  But if we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations, and we can’t fail to reach the people who are at the highest risk.  (Applause.)

Unfortunately, today very few countries monitor the quality of services delivered to these high-risk key populations.  Fewer still rigorously assess whether the services provided actually prevent transmission or do anything to ensure that HIV-positive people in these groups get the care and treatment they need.  Even worse, some take actions that, rather than discouraging risky behavior, actually drives more people into the shadows, where the epidemic is that much harder to fight.

And the consequences are devastating for the people themselves and for the fight against HIV because when key groups are marginalized, the virus spreads rapidly within those groups and then also into the lower-risk general population.  We are seeing this happen right now in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.  Humans might discriminate, but viruses do not.

And there is an old saying that goes: “Why rob banks?  Because that’s where the money is.”  If we want to save more lives, we need to go where the virus is and get there as quickly as possible.  (Applause.)

And that means science should guide our efforts.  So today I am announcing three new efforts by the United States Government to reach key populations.  We will invest $15 million in implementation research to identify the specific interventions that are most effective for each key population.  We are also launching a $20 million challenge fund that will support country-led plans to expand services for key populations.  And finally, through the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund, we will invest $2 million to bolster the efforts of civil society groups to reach key populations.  (Applause.)

Now Americans are rightly proud of the leading role that our country plays in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  And the world has learned a great deal through PEPFAR about what works and why.  And we’ve also learned a great deal about the needs that are not being met and how everyone can and must work together to meet those needs.

For our part, PEPFAR will remain at the center of America’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation.  I have asked Ambassador Dr. Goosby to take the lead on developing and sharing our blueprint of the goals and objectives for the next phase of our effort and to release this blueprint by World AIDS Day this year.  We want the next Congress, the next Secretary of State, and all of our partners here at home and around the world to have a clear picture of everything we’ve learned and a roadmap that shows what we will contribute to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

Reaching this goal is a shared responsibility.  It begins with what we can all do to help break the chain of mother-to-child transmission.  And this takes leadership at every level – from investing in health care workers to removing the registration fees that discourage women from seeking care.  And we need community and family leaders from grandmothers to religious leaders to encourage women to get tested and to demand treatment if they need it.

We also all have a shared responsibility to support multilateral institutions like the Global Fund.  In recent months, as the United States has stepped up our commitment, so have Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, the Gates Foundation, and others.  I encourage other donors, especially in emerging economies, to increase their contributions to this essential organization.

And then finally, we all have a shared responsibility to get serious about promoting country ownership – the end state where a nation’s efforts are led, implemented, and eventually paid for by its government, its communities, its civil society, its private sector. 

I spoke earlier about how the United States is supporting country ownership, but we also look to our partner countries and donors to do their part.  They can follow the example of the last few years in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, India, and other countries who are able to provide more and better care for their own people because they are committing more of their own resources to HIV/AIDS.  (Applause.)  And partner countries also need to take steps like fighting corruption and making sure their systems for approving drugs are as efficient as possible.

I began today by recalling the last time this conference was held here in the United States, and I want to close by recalling another symbol of our cause, the AIDS Memorial Quilt.  For a quarter-century, this quilt has been a source of solace and comfort for people around the world, a visible way to honor and remember, to mourn husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, partners and friends. 

Some of you have seen the parts of the quilt that are on view in Washington this week.  I well remember the moment in 1996 when Bill and I went to the National Mall to see the quilt for ourselves.  I had sent word ahead that I wanted to know where the names of friends I had lost were placed so that I could be sure to find them.  When we saw how enormous the quilt was covering acres of ground, stretching from the Capitol building to the Washington Monument, it was devastating.  And in the months and years that followed, the quilt kept growing.  In fact, back in 1996 was the last time it could be displayed all at once.  It just got too big.  Too many people kept dying.

We are all here today because we want to bring about that moment when we stop adding names, when we can come to a gathering like this one and not talk about the fight against AIDS, but instead commemorate the birth of a generation that is free of AIDS.

Now, that moment is still in the distance, but we know what road we need to take.  We are closer to that destination than we’ve ever been, and as we continue on this journey together, we should be encouraged and inspired by the knowledge of how far we’ve already come.  So today and throughout this week let us restore our own faith and renew our own purpose so we may together reach that goal of an AIDS-free generation and truly honor all of those who have been lost.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

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AIDS conference returns to U.S. at turning point

The world’s largest AIDS conference returned to the U.S. on Sunday with a plea against complacency at a time when the epidemic is at a critical turning point. “We can start to end AIDS,” one expert said.

There is no cure or vaccine yet, but scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus – largely by using treatment not just to save patients but to make them less infectious, too.

“Future generations are counting on our courage to think big, be bold and seize the opportunity before us,” said Dr. Diane Havlir of the University of California, San Francisco, a co-chair of the International AIDS Conference.

The Obama administration calls the goal an AIDS-free generation, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said what was “once a far-off dream, now is in sight.”

But the challenge that more than 20,000 scientists, doctors, people living with HIV and policy-makers will grapple with this week is how to make this promising science a practical reality. What combinations of protections work best in different regions, from AIDS-ravaged poor countries to hot spots in developed countries like the U.S.? With HIV increasingly an epidemic of the poor and the marginalized, will countries find the will to invest in the most vulnerable?

And where’s the money? The world spent $16.8 billion fighting AIDS in poor countries last year, but that’s still $7 billion a year shy of the amount needed to get the 15 million people most in need of treatment on drugs by 2015, the United Nations says. Eight million take them today.

Experts told the conference Sunday that a global recession and fatigue in the AIDS fight threaten those dollars.

“We must resolve together never to go backwards,” said Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society.

Added Havlir, “It would be an extraordinary failure of global will and conscience if financial constraints truncated our ability to end AIDS just when the science has shown us that this goal is achievable.”

One key step in stemming HIV’s spread is to treat more infected pregnant women so they don’t spread the virus to their babies. Some 300,000 children were infected last year, but that number is steadiliy dropping.

UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe put a face to that investment Sunday, introducing a mother from Nigeria who received U.S.-funded treatment that meant her daughter, now 13, was born without HIV.

“I do not want to be the lucky exception,” Florence Uche Ignatius told the crowd.

Added her daughter, Ebube Francis Taylor, “I want all children to be born just like me, free of HIV.”

But the hurdles are huge. Some 34.2 million now are living with HIV around the world. The epidemic is worst in developing countries, especially in Africa. Progress has stalled even in the U.S., which has seen about 50,000 new infections every year for a decade. Here, nearly 1.2 million people live with HIV, and one in five doesn’t know it. African-Americans are particularly hard-hit, accounting for about half of infections.

Getting medication is a problem for the poor here, too. Sebelius said the Obama administration had released nearly $80 million in grants this week to increase access to treatment, and is trying novel partnerships with community groups to help people stick with the medication daily for life. First up is a pilot program with the MAC AIDS Fund that will send text-message reminders about medication to young people living in the South.

The AIDS conference – remarkable for giving a forum not just to leading scientists but to people who live with HIV – hasn’t returned to the U.S. since 1990, in protest of the longtime ban on people with the virus entering the country. The Obama administration lifted the travel ban in 2010, finishing a process begun under the Bush administration. Not lifted was a ban on sex workers and injecting drug users, and protesters briefly interrupted the opening news conference to decry their absence from the meeting.

People living with HIV marched through downtown Washington Sunday to urge the public and policy-makers to pay attention to a disease that, in this country, doesn’t get much publicity anymore.

“We’re everyday people. Anybody and everybody can catch this,” said Ann Dixon, who traveled from North Little Rock, Ark., to attend the march. She learned she had HIV in 1997.

Report: Police confiscation of condoms fuels HIV epidemic

An international human rights group says that police confiscation of condoms from sex workers undermines HIV-prevention campaigns and fuels the epidemic.

The 12-page report comes from Human Rights Watch in advance of the International AIDS Conference about to take place in Washington, D.C..

The report examined police and prosecutorial practice in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where condoms are taken from sex workers during arrests and used as evidence in the legal cases against the defendents.

The practice, said HRW, makes sex workers reluctant to carry condoms, causes them to engage in sex without protection and puts them and others at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“Sex workers in each city asked us how many condoms it was legal to carry,” said HRW senior health researcher Megan McLemore. “One woman in Los Angeles told us she was afraid to carry condoms with her and sometimes had to use a plastic bag instead of a condom with clients to try to protect herself from HIV.”

HRW researchers interviewed more than 300 people for the report, including sex workers, former sex workers, outreach workers, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders and health officials.

One sex worker in Washington told the researchers, “Police always ask ‘why do you have so many condoms?’ No one walks around with a lot of condoms because of it.”

McLemore said public safety officials seem to be working against each other – the city health departments invest millions in distributing free condoms in high-risk populations, but those in at least one high-risk population are afraid to carry condoms.

“These cities gave out 50 million condoms last year,” McLemore said. “But the police are taking them out of the hands of those who need them the most.” Police and prosecutors defended the use of condoms as evidence, saying that the practice was necessary to enforce anti-prostitution laws and that condoms are one tool that helps obtain convictions against prostitutes, their clients and those involved in sex trafficking.

The report also contains testimony from transgender women who said that police, as a routine, stopped and searched them for condoms. “Broad loitering laws in these cities invite profiling and discrimination and should be reformed or repealed,” HRW said in the report.

On the Web: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ajxFEnenxN8.

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Clinton to address International AIDS conference

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will address the opening plenary session of the 19th International AIDS Conference on July 23.

Clinton will make her remarks at AIDS 2012 at 10 a.m. on July 23 at the Washington Convention Center.

The president is not scheduled to attend the conference, which takes place July 22-27 in Washington, but will send a video message to attendees. The White House also will host a reception on July 26 to honor those fighting HIV/AIDS and send senior administration staff to the conference. In addition to Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will attend, as well as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, White House Office of National AIDS Policy director Grant Colfax and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci.

The biennial conference brings together scientists, policymakers, implementers and people living with HIV and AIDS to explore progress in fighting the disease and chart new goals and strategies.

The conference is returning to the United States after a 22-year absence following the administration’s repeal of HIV-related entry restrictions.

Clinton’s remarks will be streamed live at www.kff.org/aids2012. 

Other State Department officials scheduled to participate in the conference include Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state; Ambassador Melanne Verveer of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues; and Lois Quam, executive director of the Secretary’s Global Health Initiative.

On the Web: AIDS.gov and AIDS2012.org.

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Occupy protest coincides with AIDS conference

A coalition of groups is organizing a protest for July 24 in Washington, D.C., to coincide with the International AIDS Conference taking place there.

The We Can End AIDS coalition is organizing the “mobilization for economic justice and human rights” to demand

• An end to cuts in HIV/AIDS services.

• Full implementation of the national AIDS strategy intended to “end AIDS in the United States.”

• A lift on the U.S. ban on federal funds for syringe exchange programs.

• Full access to AIDS and reproductive health services.

• Accountability from drug-makers and governments.

• An end to the criminalization of sex workers, drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS.

• Tax Wall Street – “the global 1 percent” – to stop cuts to domestic and global AIDS services.

The coalition’s platform begins, “We demand a world in which the lives and health of individuals, workers, families and communities are prioritized over ideology and the interests of corporations and the wealthy. But across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe – and right here in the United States and the capital of Washington, D.C. – this is often not the case. We have the science, the treatments, and the resources to end the HIV epidemic, but not the political will.”

The “Occupy The Roots of HIV” demonstration is set for noon on July 24, with actions planned at the White House, Treasury Department and the National Chamber of Commerce.

The coalition is seeking people to help organize actions and to endorse the mobilization.

A call to action also encourages protests beyond the Beltway on the same day.

The International AIDS Conference takes place July 22-27. Other events coinciding with the conference include displays of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

To learn more about the protest, go to http://www.wecanendaids.org.

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Science returns to the U.S.

For the first time since 1990, the International AIDS Conference 2012 will be held on American soil. This is a major development.

Hosting the conference helps put the United States back into the mainstream international scientific community. The nation is increasingly becoming a scientific backwater. We are the only industrialized country on Earth where evolution and global warming are heavily doubted and science-based sex education is demonized. The return of this internationally watched and esteemed conference lends stature to our scientific community.

The International AIDS Conference began boycotting the United States 22 years ago due to the so-called “Helms Rule,” a federal law that banned granting U.S. visas to people who were HIV-positive. The ban was named after the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., whose five Senate terms were marked by a level of anti-gay zealotry that rivals the record of former Sen. Rick Santorum.

The Helms Rule made the United States the world’s only industrialized nation to ban visitors based on their HIV status. It contributed to the marginalization of people with HIV and helped spread ignorance and fear by reinforcing the myth that the virus can be spread through casual contact.

AIDS workers were overjoyed when President Obama lifted the nation’s HIV travel ban in 2009, and they’re grateful that the 19th biennual international conference is being held in Washington, D.C., from July 22 to July 27.

The visibility is coming at an opportune time. Effective new treatments and declining infection rates among white heterosexuals have taken the epidemic off the radar of most Americans. But for gay and bisexual men, especially young gay and bisexual men of color the epidemic rages on. The rate for this group in Milwaukee tripled from 2001 to 2008.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 50,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. every year, many of them transmitted by people unaware that they’re HIV positive. In fact, about one in five Americans infected with the virus do not know their status.

A 2011 clinical trial found that treating HIV-positive people with anti-viral drugs could decrease their ability to transmit the virus by up to 96 percent. From that data, some researchers have speculated that the virus could be eradicated if everyone who is positive or at high risk received treatment.

That means it’s more critical than ever to get at-risk people tested and into treatment. AIDS 2012 should facilitate that process by bringing renewed attention to the disease and reducing the stigma that often discourages people from getting tested.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new, over-the- counter HIV home-testing kit that should also help more people learn their status. Many at-risk individuals, particularly of color, are reluctant to be seen entering an HIV clinic to be tested. With the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, they can test themselves at home by swabbing their upper and lower gums and then placing the samples they acquire into a developer vial. Within 20 to 40 minutes, they’ll learn their results. A positive result means that additional, confirmatory testing should be done in a medical setting.

We hope that AIDS 2012 draws renewed attention to the U.S. epidemic and encourages more people to seek testing and receive care.

AIDS Quilt unfolded in shadow of conference

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is many things: It is the world’s largest memorial. It is the largest public art project in history. It is a testament to the lives of more than 600,000 Americans who’ve died of HIV-related causes, and it is a lasting document of the AIDS pandemic for future generations.

Last month, the AIDS Quilt returned to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where it was first shown in 1987. The exhibit will coincide with the 19th International AIDS Conference, which opens in D.C. on July 22 and continues through July 27. Each event marks a milestone in AIDS history. This is the first time that the entire quilt has been displayed in one location since 1996, and it’s the first time that the AIDS conference has been held on American soil since 1990.

San Francisco activist Cleve Jones first conceived of the memorial in 1985. His original idea was to inscribe the names of people lost to AIDS on placards. Installed together, the placards were reminiscent of a quilt, which sparked the idea for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

The project began in the summer of 1987 and continues to this day. About 94,000 individuals are commemorated in The Quilt through panels created by their survivors and loved ones. The compositions include everything from photographs to poems, embroidered designs and appliqués, wedding rings and ashes.

The Quilt is monumental and profound, its size alone a stark reminder of the many lives lost. Yet it’s intensely personal, with each panel a lasting and loving commemoration of a unique individual.

The panels measure three feet by six feet, and eight panels are sewn together to create blocks that are 12-feet square. Always growing, The Quilt currently consists of more than 42,000 panels and weighs about 54 tons. As a whole, it would cover 29 acres of land. If the panels were laid end to end, they would extend longer than 50 miles. Spending one minute viewing each panel would take more than 33 days.

In past decades, The Quilt has been shown in various arrangements, with excerpts touring cities around the country (the Milwaukee Art Museum hung select panels in June 2010). In honor of the project’s 25th anniversary, it is being shown in Washington in its entirety. But given the scale, a viewing in one single session is all but impossible. To accommodate its size, The Quilt is being shown through a series of 60 changing displays in more than 50 locations over the span of 31 days.

The making of quilts as commemorative objects has quite a long history. They are multi-purpose, functioning as bed coverings and hangings on windows and doors to block drafty passages. Other types of quilts were made as showpieces and items of decorative beauty in their own right. In America, they have long been associated with comfort and memory, in addition to functionality.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is of a type known as a “signature quilt.” These are commemorative objects used to mark significant events in the lives of family and friends, and they traditionally bear names, written or embroidered on the quilt blocks. Signature quilts date to the mid-19th century, but they continued to be made in the 20th century as well. During World War II, signature quilts were used as charity raffle items for organizations such as the Red Cross.

One of the unique aspects of The Quilt is its iconic status as both a historical and contemporary memorial that brings together the work of many individuals and communities. And while it builds on traditions of quilt making, new technology is enhancing the ways it can be seen.

The Washington display, for instance, has an interactive timeline about AIDS and The Quilt project. There’s also a searchable database, which helps to locate individual names and panels. A mobile app is available at www.aidsquilttouch.org.

The 25th anniversary of The AIDS Memorial Quilt is a time to pause and reflect on the history of the epidemic and the countless lives it has affected in so many ways. The Quilt’s presence in Washing- ton will be particularly poignant to the world’s most important AIDS researchers meeting nearby – a reminder of the significance of their work and a symbol of the pressure on them to stop The Quilt from growing.

HIV/AIDS experts assess ‘AIDS in America’

The National Press Club on July 10 will host leading HIV/AIDS policy experts offering a look at AIDS in America in advance of the XIX International AIDS Conference.

The policy briefing is set to take place at 10 a.m. EST at the press club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

The AIDS conference is set for July 22-27 in Washington, D.C. The conference, expected to draw some 2,000 journalists and more than 25,000 delegates, has not been held in the United States in 22 years.

The NPC’s briefing on July 10 will focus on the domestic campaign to end AIDS in the United States.

Speakers will include Carl Schmid of The AIDS Institute, A. Cornelius Baker of the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, Julie Scofield of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and Ronald Johnson of AIDS United.

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