AIDS2014 was the 20th International AIDS Conference and was held in Melbourne from July 20-15, 2014. The Conference had a very somber beginning with the loss of a number of delegates in the MH17 airline tragedy. Nonetheless it proceeded, as it should have, and was a great tribute to those lost who had dedicated so much of their lives to improving the health and well being of others.
Over 14,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries, including 1,200 journalists convened at AIDS2014. There were those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It was chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments, lessons learnt and collectively chart a course forward.
Following on from the RESULTS National Conference RESULTS staff, volunteers and Board members joined our global health advocacy partners from ACTION at AIDS2014 with the purpose of profiling the issue of tuberculosis (TB) in the fight against HIV and AIDS, as well as the important role of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in combatting these diseases.
These efforts were also greatly enhanced by working closely with international superstar and humanitarian Ms. Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The media that we were able to generate in the lead up to the Conference events also helped us to secure high profile meetings.
We were also proud that, for the first time ever, at an International AIDS Conference, TB was recognized as a neglected issue in the fight against AIDS, and this deadly duo was spotlighted with a dedicated TB+HIV Networking Zone.
Why was it important to profile TB and an AIDS conference?
TB is the leading killer of people living with HIV, causing one in five HIV-related deaths. TB is the most common presenting illness among people living with HIV, including those who are taking antiretroviral treatment. At least one-third of the 34 million people living with HIV is infected with latent TB and those co-infected with TB and HIV are 21-34 times more likely to develop active TB. So in reality, TB and HIV are two diseases that often attack as one.
The substantial progress made in the fight against HIV over the past years is threatened by the neglect of tuberculosis (TB). By ignoring TB, we risk undermining the huge financial investments made to help people living with HIV.
A new research report was released by ACTION at AIDS2014 entitled From Rhetoric to Reality: An Analysis of Efforts to Scale Up The Response to TB-HIV. It showed that joint TB-HIV activities are neglected by HIV programs and overwhelmingly carried out by TB programs, and that global guidelines to address TB-HIV have not been prioritized by leading donors and affected countries.
Here, three of RESULTS Australia’s attendees share some personal insights
Maree Nutt, CEO:
It was very inspiring (and at times overwhelming) to be part of such an amazing conference where so many people, institutions, governments and organisations come together united for a common cause. Our ACTION partners, our staff and volunteers did an incredible job highlighting the issue of TBHIV as well as the role of the Global Fund in a variety of forums. Often with Yvonne Chaka Chaka by our side, we were also able to secure several meetings with senior government officials and parliamentarians during the week
Sarah Kirk, Global Health Campaign Manager (Tuberculosis):
The TB/HIV Networking Zone was a buzzing place during the conference. TB activists from all over the world presented, discussed their projects, argued for new initiatives and shared their wisdom.
The thing that struck me the most was how common TB really is – we hear statistics like 1/3 of the world is infected with latent TB, and in some populations (prisoners and miners), this can be up to 90%. However we don’t often hear about people who were happily going about their everyday lives before they got TB. Housewives, school boys, nurses, builders, journalists, grandmas, nuns and researchers. So many people from all over the world “I tested positive for TB” “I was treated for TB”.
For something as deadly as TB, it is frightening how ordinary and normal it is to have to take a 6 month-2 year course of drugs and injections.
The thing is, everyone at that conference were the lucky ones. They responded to treatment, they “only” caught TB, not MDR or XDR TB. They “only” had years of drugs with terrible side effects.
Nicole So, Volunteer and #DeadlyDuo Mascot:
I have never been inside a mascot costume before. It was heavy and cumbersome.
Mostly, people wanted to hug me. Or pretend to fight me. But one lady chased and punched me. The force rattled me and almost made me lose my balance. I couldn’t see her, the costume takes away most of my peripheral vision as well as give me blurry vision. But I could hear her say, ‘I hate you. I hate you. You took my brother. I hate you.’
Before this happened, we posed for lots of photos. It was fun and people were often amused to see us. But this incident made it real, it caused me to think about the harsh reality of so many People Living with HIV and AIDS, and the repercussions on the lives of their loved ones.
HIV causes the progressive failure of the immune system allowing for opportunistic infections to take hold. TB is the number one killer of PLWHA. Perhaps it was TB that took her brother’s life.
This emphasised the need to further our message of the important of TB and HIV coinfection. No one was punching TB!