In 2015, the International AIDS Society (IAS) will hold a conference in Vancouver, returning to the city for a large-scale meeting the first time since the 1996 AIDS Conference that heralded the beginning of the era of highly active antiretroviral treatment. And in 2016, the IAS will convene the large, biennial International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa -- 16 years after the 2000 conference that revolutionized global expectations of AIDS treatment in low-income settings.
The 1996 and 2000 conferences are by many accounts the two most significant global AIDS meetings that have ever taken place. And it is possible, if the right steps are taken, the right funds committed, the right programs implemented and the right partners engaged that the 2015 and 2016 meetings could prove to be watershed moments in the field.
These are big "ifs."
The most pressing and fundamental question is one of financial resources. If global investment doesn't match the price tag for expanded, comprehensive prevention, then all the plans and targets in the world are irrelevant.
But if it does, then by 2016, we could begin to see evidence of downward slopes that confirm we're on track to beginning to end the AIDS epidemic in our lifetime.
AVAC, the HIV advocacy organization that I direct, just released Prevention on the Line, a report in which we talk about target setting and the importance of having specific strategies, clear definitions and strong commitments.
We also talk about the need for short-term action. The world cannot wait until 2020 to find out whether the AIDS response is on track to end the epidemic by 2030. Indicators of progress or problems are already available -- and the picture will be even clearer by the time the Vancouver and Durban conferences take place.
There is no better use of these large, costly AIDS meetings than to take honest stock of the global response and galvanize action on a global scale.
Both the 1996 and 2000 conferences are remembered as momentous turning points. They're also remembered for the grief and urgency of the time. People who lived through the early years of the AIDS epidemic remember the dawn of the HAART era as a moment of exhaustion and grief, as well as celebration.
And while Durban started a revolution in AIDS drugs for Africa, it took four long years -- and an unconscionable number of lives -- before that revolution realized its goals.
Today the AIDS response is poised at another moment that could be a revolution, providing that it does not dissipate into rhetoric or dissolve into underfunded documents and plans.
Will Vancouver 2015 be the meeting where science, rights and action get in synch and revolutionize the epidemic once again? Will Durban 2016 lead to massive mobilization for decisive action on ending the epidemic?
Let's use the memories of those who did not live to return to Vancouver and Durban -- as well as our own memories and histories -- to fuel the continued fight for lasting change.
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