The International AIDS Conference Returns to the United States
March 29, 2012
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Global Health Policy Center
This report examines the political history of the international AIDS conferences from 1985 to the present. It is less a survey of major public health achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS than an examination of the politics of the conferences themselves. It provides insights into the ways the conferences have contributed to the mobilization of funding, research, and advocacy focused on ending the epidemic. At the same time, it both aims to identify the key attributes that have characterized the most “successful” conferences for participants, organizers, and the broader AIDS community and to offer considerations for future conference planning and decisionmaking.
The report finds that the most significant conferences from participants’ point of view have featured either major scientific breakthroughs, such as the 1996 Vancouver meeting, or substantial sociopolitical breakthroughs, as in Durban in 2000, when unprecedented civil society engagement helped generate momentum for the development of an international consensus to institute and scale up treatment for HIV-infected populations in resource-limited settings. Those conferences at which the local community has been strongly represented—as participants, volunteers, or citizen-hosts—have also been among the most significant in demonstrating the potential for international collaboration to help end the epidemic. Obviously, the organizers of the upcoming Washington meeting in July 2012 cannot control the pace of scientific discovery, but there are several elements to keep in mind as they strive to put together a positive and significant international AIDS conference.