Opening session of IAS Conference on HIV Science

UNAIDS

The International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Science opened on 18 July. The participants were welcomed by Adeeba Kamarulzaman, the Chair of the IAS, and Hendrik Streeck, the local Chair of the conference, who held up UNAIDS as an example of the multisectoral approach that was needed for the response to COVID-19. The opening address was delivered by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, which was followed by a panel discussion.

The panel’s speakers drew parallels between the need for global solidarity for COVID-19, especially with regard to access to vaccines, and for HIV, recognizing that both viruses spread regardless of borders and need a global response. They also spoke about the imperative to not let the HIV response be slowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Repeated emphasis was made on the bi-directionality of COVID-19 and HIV investments, reminding the audience of the importance of investment in HIV science for developments in COVID-19.

Jens Spahn, Germany’s Federal Minister of Health, accepted that the global response to COVID-19 has been slow but stressed that political decisions had been made to increase global vaccine access, and supply would increase briskly in the coming months. Yvette Raphael, a South African activist living with HIV, recounted her struggle to fight stigma and discrimination relating to HIV, gender and race/ethnicity. She reminded the audience that scientific data relate to real people with human relationships.

Soumya Swaminathan, the Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, reflected on the priorities of primary health care and universal health coverage. Perhaps the most frequent and strongly felt sentiments concerned the need to combat misinformation and disregard for science. “Follow the science” was a phrase that resonated over the course of the rich discussion.

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