Nonetheless, the conference was, in certain ways remarkable, as the host of international delegates — leading public health experts, biomedical scientists, behavioral researchers, social activists, development planners and other key personalities associated with numerous projects and initiatives being carried out at international, national, national and regional scale to prevent the spread of the epidemic — proposed numerous novel methods as alternative preventive measures radically different from the conventional ones.
To no one’s surprise, therefore, extensive sessions were devoted to discussions on new approaches to HIV Prevention, including micro biocides and circumcisions, besides debates on anti-AIDS vaccines. However, an ‘arguer part of these discussions was occupied by talks and suggestions with thrust on accelerating researches in alternative prevention instead of only vaccines.
According to the global HIV Prevention Working Group, a panel of 50 noted health experts, researchers and medical professionals, new tools and strategies could help avert millions of fresh infections and have a substantial impact on the course of HIV/AIDS epidemics. The Working Group further stated in the light of its experiments that HIV prevention could be enhanced by the use of a combination of behavioral and biomedical interventions.
Various bio-medical interventions and methods discussed during the conference included male circumcision, micro biocides, and antiviral treatment for HIV prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis, herpes suppression and cervical barrier methods besides vaccines.
Many participants in the conference went on to say that some of these methods could potentially succeed within the next few years. However, a method like male circumcision, even while it has proved to be very useful in several African countries, cannot be adopted everywhere due to religious reasons. Speaking at the conference, Mr. Rohin Jackson, Chief of World Food Programme (WFP) HIV/AIDS Service, said on August 16, 2006, that all concerned groups, agencies and people involved in the fight against AIDS, should extend not only remedial, but also nutritional support to the people affected by HIV.
So far, donor countries have poured billions of dollars into retroviral and other medication to counter the growing impact of AIDS in Africa, Asia and Latin America with almost no thought to nutrition.
Pointing to this sad state of affairs, Mr. Jackson called for immediate action on part of the donor countries to help execute cost-effective and comprehensive programmes so as to cater to the basic food and nutritional needs of the people.
Mr. Bill Clinton, former US President, in his speech, took a swipe at the US administration for its avowed support to abstinence — based programmes aiming to fight HIV/AIDS. Instead, he articulated full support to needle exchange programme and safe injection sites to bring down the rate of infection among the drug users.
During the concluding session of the conference on August 18, 2006, the participants unanimously called for a scale-up in HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes in resource-limited settings.
The conference ended on a note of hopefulness, tempered with growing impatience as scientists, clinicians, policymakers, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and other community leaders and caregivers called for an accelerated pace to scale up HIV prevention, care and treatment programmes in resource- limited settings.
Summing up the significance of the 16th International AIDS Conference, Co-Chair Dr. Helene Gayle, outgoing President of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and President and CEO of CARE USA, said, “The convergence of global stakeholders at AIDS 2006 has provided an ideal opportunity to examine the 9ap between what society is capable of doing in the face of this unprecedented humanitarian crisis and the actual level of response.” She further added,” Despite important momentum over the past few years, the slow pace of progress has led to growing impatience. My hope is that we will use what we’ve learned here in Toronto to strengthen the global response.” However, Conference Co-Chair Dr. Mark Wainberg, Local Host Board Chair and Director of the McGill University AIDS Centre, had a different view marked by a more realistic perception as he said, “This conference cannot be deemed a success unless we collectively realize our theme of Time to deliver.”
As part of the Closing Session, Kecia Larkin, the first aboriginal woman in Canada to say publicly that she is HIV positive, issued a passionate call to action. With her teenage daughter standing next to her, Larkin implored the international JHIV/AIDS community to include Native people in its work. “HIV is an epidemic alive in our communities and I will no longer be silent about this truth,” she said.
Dr. Anders Nordstrom, Acting Director-General for the World Health Organization, spoke of the need for innovative financing mechanisms and for national governments to make HIV/AIDS a funding priority. He also underscored the importance of addressing workforce issues during scale up. “The most important area to ensure success in achieving universal access is a skilled and motivated workforce. No improvement in financing or medical products can make a lasting difference to people’s lives until the crisis in the health workforce is solved.”
In his closing keynote address, United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa and former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Stephen Lewis said, “I challenge you my fellow delegates to enter the fray of gender ‘inequality. There is no more honorable and productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change, and that includes subduing the pandemic.”
“All the knowledge, innovative research and new tools will not be effective without the political leadership that is essential to halting this disease,” said Dr. Pedro Cahn, who assumed the Presidency of the International AIDS Society. “We will not accept a Schindler’s List for HIV in which the lives of those who receive treatment are saved and others are left behind to suffer and die. We must keep pressure on the G-8 leaders to follow up on their commitment to achieve universal access to prevention, care and treatment by 2010.” Dr. Cahn is President of Huesped Foundation and serves as Chief of the Infectious Disease Unit at Juan A. Fernandez Hospital, and as Assistant Professor in Infectious Diseases at the Buenos Aires University Medical School in Argentina.
As part of the Closing Session of the conference, Co-Chair Dr. Mark Wainberg and Toronto Mayor David Miller officially transferred the International AIDS Conference glass globe from Toronto to Mexico City, the host of AIDS 2008. Accepting the globe for Mexico City and Mexico were IAS Governing Council member Dr. Luis Soro-Ramirez, of the Molecular Virology Unit at the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Medicas y Nutricion (INCMNSZ) and Mexican Minister of Health Julio Frenk.
The 16th International AIDS Conference, organized by the International AIDS Society (IAS) and the AIDS 2006 Toronto Local Host, is the biennial gathering of the global AIDS community the conference will feature the presentation of more than 4,500 abstracts and an array of community and cultural activities. Over 26,000 participants from more than 170 countries are in attendance.
As per the estimates of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), approximately 39 million people were affected worldwide with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2005. Out of that, a large majority live in developing countries where the treatment access gap is enormous. Children are the worst victims as only 8- 13 percent of the 8, 00,000 children needing HIV treatment have access to it.