Waverley Care CEO Grant Sugden attended the 24th International AIDS Conference last year in Montreal, Canada. In this blog, he discusses his experience of the conference.
While the official theme of AIDS 2022 in Montreal was ‘re-engage and follow the science’, it could well have been ‘let’s reinvigorate the fight against inequality and injustice.’
Over and over we heard how HIV continues to impact most on the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities. On the opening day, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, announced that in 2021 every 2 minutes an adolescent girl or young woman acquired HIV and every minute someone died of AIDS. In human terms, that means 1.6 million new infections and 660,000 deaths in 2021 alone.
New HIV infections continue to impact most on key populations – gay and bisexual men, people who inject drugs and trans communities – while punitive HIV criminalisation laws and a lack of harm reduction measures deny many people basic human rights and access to prevention and treatment services.
While we have all the tools to end new HIV infections, inequality and structural barriers mean that many communities – particularly women and young girls, prisoners and people who use drugs – lack access and real choice when it comes to innovations such as PrEP, injectable treatment and harm reduction measures.
Without seriously challenging injustice, patriarchy, poverty and HIV stigma, efforts to end new HIV transmissions globally will be limited. It’s not a surprise that the comment from Fatima Hassan, Health Justice Initiative, that ‘the global architecture is broken’, really resonated.
Notwithstanding, we have an amazing HIV community and AIDS 22 reminded me how much change in HIV is achieved by activists fighting for what they believe. We heard from people living with HIV how important U=U is and how we need to work to ensure everyone knows it. We witnessed huge anger about the inadequate response to MonkeyPox by governments across the world.
Tony Fauci, advisor to seven US Presidents, told us all loudly and clearly to renew our commitment to HIV. Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas. Let’s hope that, by the next global conference in 2024, we’ll see real progress we can all be proud of.