In July, the world’s largest AIDS conference will be held in Vienna, Austria. About 25 thousand people are expected to attend the meeting, which will focus on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The theme of the 18th International AIDS conference – also known as AIDS 2010 – is Rights Here, Rights Now.
Robin Gorna, executive director of the International AIDS Society, one of the organizers of the event, says, “We believe one of the most important barriers to scaling up AIDS services, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in particular, is the lack of respect for human rights. If we don’t get a handle on the human rights issues we won’t be able to turn the epidemic around.”
Drugs and sex
The AIDS conference will address the rights issues of controversial and often shunned members of society, such as intravenous drug abusers.
She says, “We know that we have fantastic evidence that harm reduction services – needle and syringe programs, opiate substitution therapy, methadone – works to stop people who use drugs from acquiring HIV. And to keep people with HIV who use drugs alive and healthy. Tragically, in many countries in Eastern Europe, those services simply aren’t available and in Russia they’re illegal.”
Another group that will receive more attention at AIDS 2010 is men having sex with men.
"That’s an issue in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but also an issue increasingly in African countries. And where we see the rights of men who have sex with men abused, we see the epidemic begin to take off. As well as the individual suffering caused to people who are despised, discriminated against and criminalized,” says Gorna.
The term – men having sex with men - was created by epidemiologists in the 1990s and is often used in clinical research.
This year’s AIDS conference will continue to emphasize the plight of women and girls, who make up the majority of HIV/AIDS cases.
“HIV is the leading cause of death amongst women of reproductive age,” she says, Where women are abused, or raped or subject to gender discrimination and inequality, then their ability to protect themselves from HIV is really limited.
East meets West
The executive director of the International AIDS Society says Vienna will play an important role in the fight against the epidemic.
“We’ve decided to have the conference in Vienna because it’s a very important place, which links Eastern Europe and Western Europe. And it’s for a long time been the crossroads there,” Gorna says.
She adds, “One of the things I don’t think the world has woken up to is quite how severe and growing the HIV epidemic is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
AIDS 2010 is expected to be the most technically advanced of the international AIDS conferences. Many of the plenary sessions will be webcast. And conference hubs are being set up in three cities in Eastern Europe, allowing people to gather to watch and interact with conference participants. The hubs will be located in Almaty, Kazakhstan; the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and Russia’s capital, Moscow.
The 18th International AIDS Conference will be held in Vienna July 18th through the 23rd.