A look back at AIDS 2018

This past week I joined more than 15,000 people in Amsterdam for the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018). As the largest conference on any global health issue in the world, it brings together a diverse group of people, including political leaders, researchers, people living with HIV (PLHIV), advocates and many others committed to ending the epidemic.

AIDS 2018 served as an opportunity for discussions about recent successes and challenges, scientific advancements and how the global community can continue to work together to fight the disease. Many of these discussions were centered around this year’s theme, “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges,”, which focused on increasing access to treatment and prevention services. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the key takeaways from the conference: 

Financing the fight

In the days leading up to the conference, the Kaiser Family Foundation and UNAIDS released a report showing that eight of 14 donor governments reduced their spending on global HIV efforts in 2017. Conference speakers and participants expressed strong concern for decreased funding and agreed that no single country or organization can finance the fight against AIDS alone. It will take sustained increases in funding from international donor countries, the private sector and local governments to makeup the current $6 billion gap between current funding and what is needed to end the epidemic, and next year’s Global Fund Replenishment provides an important opportunity for world leaders to show they are serious about the fight against AIDS.

 A focus on youth

From the largest youth space at any AIDS Conference global village to the first-ever youth conference session, young people had a commanding presence at AIDS 2018. And it was for good reason: 30 percent of all new HIV infections occur in people between the ages of 15 and 25. As highlighted in a recent Foreign Policy article and Friends brief, the developing world is experiencing a rapid growth in the number of young people. Treatment and prevention programs must address these new demographic challenges, and young people want and merit a seat at the table in designing those programs. As I heard throughout the week from youth advocates, “nothing for us, without us.”

If you want to be inspired by the youth response, be sure to check out Mercy Ngulube’s presentation during the opening session below.

Women and girls

UNAIDS released a new report, Miles to go – closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices, at AIDS 2018 covering the unique challenges that adolescent girls and young women around the world face in the AIDS epidemic. The numbers are staggering: In 2017, 6,600 young women between the ages of 15 and 24 years became infected with HIV every week. There has been a growing commitment to programs to help women and girls, including DREAMS and HER initiative, and AIDS 2018 also saw the launch of a new initiative called The MenStar Coalition featuring Prince Harry and Sir Elton John. MenStar will focus on expanding HIV diagnosis and treatments among men in Africa because recent data shows that men between the ages of 24 and 35 are a major driver in spreading the disease to adolescent girls and young women.

TB/HIV integration

From TB 2018, an official preconference, to President Bill Clinton’s keynote address on the final day of the conference, there were constant reminders throughout AIDS 2018 that tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death among PLHIV. There were calls to better integrate service delivery between the AIDS and TB responses, and TB advocates emphasized the need to learn from their counterparts in the HIV response. Ultimately, if we do not address the TB epidemic, we cannot hope to address the AIDS epidemic and vice versa. Finding ways to integrate the responses to both epidemics will allow for greater efficiency and achieve greater impact for those most in need.