Category Archives: Conferences

A celebration of life

A few weekends ago I had the privilege of visiting the NAMES project AIDS quilt on the national mall in Washington, DC.    Growing up as a child of the 1980s, just when the epidemic was beginning I had seen images of the quilt being displayed in DC and had heard about it.  However, I was given the amazing opportunity to see a portion of the quilt myself.

I am sure that I have different feelings about viewing the quilt, then do many of my friends.  Many of my friends are generations older than myself, and lost many friends and loved ones to AIDS in the late eighties/early nineties.  Many of the quilt panels on display were dedicated to individuals who died during this period.  I felt emotion for those lost, however did not have a personal connection to them, as I have been lucky to come of age in the era of HAART.  Many individuals I know who saw the quilt for the first time cried, recalling their loved ones.

It was amazing to see tributes to so many diverse individuals – men, women, children.  So many lives were taken so young.  I cringed when I saw a panel dedicated to someone who passed away in their twenties.

I am happy that the quilt is being displayed for a new generation to view – in many ways I was excited because I thought it was a step forward in eradicating the current complacence in my opinion that surrounds HIV/AIDS – many think that because there are retrovirals and pre-exposure prophylaxis, that HIV and AIDS no longer affects people.  It does, and as we know epidemics are still raging among many communities around the world, unfortunately with no hint of letting up.  I believe that displaying the quilt served as a reminder to remind generation Z+ (I just made this name up for them) the impact AIDS has had on our nation and our world.

The quilt will also be displayed in various locations in its entirety for the International AIDS Conference.  I am so excited that I will be attending this conference! Although I have to work for some of the days I will be privileged to attend the opening and some of the evening sessions.  Of course I will report on what I attend.

More from Vienna (forgotten MSM, microbicide news) even though I’m not there!

I am finding it quite difficult to remotely  keep up with the thousands of findings from Vienna, however I have been reading some of the more important snippets.  Some other people’s posts that hint that conference organizers have not addressed the growing epidemic among men who have sex with men in conference programming.  According to several posts, only 2% of conference programming has focused around men who have sex with men, even though we know that the epidemic is rising most sharply among these groups, in both developing and developed countries.  This disturbs me and makes me to do what I want to do even more, global HIV prevention among MSM.  I applaud the efforts of the Global Forum, for hosting the one day pre-conference entitled “Be Heard”, however we must continue to fight that MSM issues remain at the forefront of the HIV agenda. I remember being in awe in Mexico City when Bill Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon, the mayor of Mexico City, and several other high level policy makers came forward and said that homophobia must be eradicated in order to prevent transmission of HIV among MSM.  We must make our voices loudly heard and hope that gay activists and groups step it up in DC, to ensure that we are heard and have our fair share of speakers, posters, etc. on the agenda.  This cannot happen without all of us doing our part and continuing to advocate and conduct research and outreach for our brothers.

There has been much attention at this conference paid to the dissemination of results of recent microbicide trials.  A microbicide is a substance designed to reduce transmission of microbes, in this case HIV.  Microbicides  can be in the form of creams, gels, suppositories, etc.  Most microbicdes in development are designed for vaginal application, designed to prevent heterosexual transmission. They contain HIV antiviral agents (in this case tenofovir) designed to prevent HIV from entering the body.  According to several media sources, the latest trials have shown  that the microbicde has been shown to decrease transmission of HIV by 39% in three quarters of sexual contacts.  Our friends at the International Rectal Microbicides Advocacy blog , have some great entries and media on the results of the trials and the media coverage at Vienna.  IRMA advocates for research surrounding rectal microbicdes, which would help to prevent HIV trransmission via anal sex between two men or a man and a woman.  Many  heterosexual couples in the developing world engage in anal sex, and there has been attempts to try to quantify the trure numbers and risk levels.   The results from the vaginal trial are SO promising and would provide women a uniquely woman centered approach they can use for protection of HIV (although I like to argue that the female condom is somewhat woman centered).

And as I write this entry I just found my medical calling.  Faced with finding a way to pair my upcoming medical and public health training, with HIV prevention among MSM, I have always thought that my calling would be direct service provision to HIV positive (and negative) MSM.  While this is still the case,  I just decided I would like to engage in research to advance rectal microbicdes.  I was never much of one for research, but I think studying medicine will change that, and the cause is in need of individual champions willing to dedicate their talents to speaking up for rectal microbicides.

Sad I’m not in Vienna (but happy that others are!)

As most of you may know the largest international AIDS conference on the planet is currently happening in Vienna.: AIDS 2010.  The theme is Right Here, Right Now, and it seems a main theme of the conference is to continue to highlight the connection between HIV and human rights.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 2008 conference in Mexico City, where the theme was “Universal Action Now” and I even blogged some about the experience  for my old job, although not about MSM.  At that time I was also lucky enough to attend the Global Forum on Men who Have Sex with Men and HIV pre-conference satellite session on HIV and men who have sex with men.  Well the good folks at MSMGF put on another pre-conference this year which had an exciting line up of speakers , including policy makers and researchers.  The agenda can be found here.  I’m also happy to learn that some (non-MSM focussed)  development organizations that I have worked closely with throughout the past few years,  including John Snow Inc. (JSI), and Population Services International (PSI) have co-sponsored the event.

Interesting, I just read (after posting this) about Chris Beyrer’s presentation (he works at Johns Hokpins like me) about modeling MSM and HIVin Africa! While I have read some of his papers I have no doubt this was a rievting presnetation (and blog appropriate!).

For those of us who can not take part in the festivities, we are lucky enough to be able to experience Video Coverage of AIDS 2010Mark King’s video coverage of not only the MSM workshops, but of the whole (sometimes crazy) event.  He is videoblogging for Thebody.com

I am glad to see that the Global Forum is doing such great work for us men who have sex with men, and that we will have a prominent voice at Vienna 2010.  I also hope those of us not at the conference troll around the Internet to try to pick up relevant snippets of the conference.

I am looking forward to being in DC (my current hometown) for AIDS 2012  – the first time in decades the conference will be in the US, since the HIV-related entry restrictions for the US have been (slowly) lifted.  This in itself, will be a historic event.  Now if I can just convince my med school preceptors I’ll need the time off… and if you will be in town in two years and need some place to stay let me know.

To close, the 2008 conference impacted me so: I can still remember the opening ceremonies in Mexico City with the grupo singing “Accion Universal..” (no I didn’t take the video). 

This was the theme of the conference (now this is me being sentimental since I know there is SUCH great things going on in Vienna right now). – universal access to treatment and prevention for all.  And as Bill Clinton has said at Vienna, universal access is far from bring reached.