By Maureen Owino, CAAT Program Coordinator
The XVII International AIDS Conference (IAC) or AIDS 2008 was not one conference, but a dozen of them running simultaneously under the same huge umbrella. Exhibitions, satellites, global village presentations and affiliated events all had participants sharing and learning from each other on a wide range of issues – prevention, vaccines, human rights, women and children, treatment, vulnerable populations name it.
With over 25, 000 delegates and media, this global HIV/AIDS response forum continued to highlight the need of engaging meaningfully and respectfully groups that have been ignored in the past, to respond to the epidemic – commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, prisoners and ethno-racial communities and immigrants.
The Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT) had a great presence at this milestone conference in Mexico City and members fully participated in conference proceedings and affiliated events. 2 abstracts on our “Improving mental health service access for immigrant, refugee PHAs” study were selected for poster presentation at the conference, and 3 other CAAT steering committee members had poster presentations on their own program initiatives. Our members also worked with local MSM communities and promoted condom distribution amongst the local communities, assisted in the planning of the Global Village programs, and volunteered at the display booths of the Canadian government and the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO). We also organized a very special reunion event to celebrate the birthday of our former coordinator, Victor Inigo, who is now based in Mexico City and continued to be actively involved in HIV/AIDS work.
Many of our delegates attended separate satellite conferences that preceded the main event, including Youth, Global forum on MSM and HIV, Religious leaders and HIV – all stipulated the need of capacity building skills, resources and equality for all so as to move the agenda forward in the HIV/AIDS response. On August 2nd, local and international delegates joined together by the thousands for Mexico’s first ever “Global March Against Stigma, Discrimination and Homophobia” that started from the Angel of Independence monument, up to the monumental Paseo de la Reforma and climaxed at the Zocalo, which are the central points of celebration and protest in Mexico
At the main conference, speakers emphasized prevention and treatments as strategies that have to work hand in hand, as well as advocacy for vaccines. Topics like HIV criminalization, male circumcision for HIV prevention, restriction to travel, accountability for HIV funding were topics that were most talked about in all sessions from the skills building workshops, to plenaries and presentations in the global village.
At the closing ceremony, Julio Montaner of British Columbia’s Centre of Excellence was elected President of International AIDS Society, while Elly Katabira was nominated as President-elect for IAS, who will assume office at the end of the conference in Vienna, Austria in July 2008. With a lot of information exchange and shared, AIDS 2008 was a turning point in the HIV/AIDS response because of the findings shared all aimed at evidence-based strategies to advance prevention, care, support and treatment to be able to look towards achieving ‘Universal Action Now’.