WASHINGTON (MCT) — Around 20,000 delegates — researchers, activists, advocates and policy makers — from more than 200 countries came to the Washington Convention Center on Sunday to begin the International AIDS conference.
“This conference is meeting at a turning point for the epidemic,” said Shawn Jain, a spokesman. “It’s at a time where we can really begin to look at getting to the end of AIDS, and I think that what will be the key message coming out of this conference is how we do that — how we implement some of the key developments that have occurred in the past couple of years.”
The global AIDS pandemic has killed 30 million worldwide over three decades, including 600,000 Americans.
At this week’s conference, attendees expect to hear of new breakthroughs in research and new efforts by governments and organizations to reduce the spread of HIV and treat those who have it.
For Joy Crawford from Jamaica, director of programs and training at Eve for Life, a group that supports women and children living with the human immunodeficiency virus, the conference is a chance to network, stay informed about trends and share best practices. She’s attended three international AIDS conferences, but this time, she’s brought young teen mothers and plans to screen a film about a program for young HIV-positive and HIV-negative teens and their families.
Crawford hopes the conference will make a difference, especially given that it’s in a First World country this time.
“At the end of it all, I hope we would be able to have gotten value for money,” she said. “So often we have the conferences and at the end of the day there’s no real serious impact in regionals and at the community level. I’m hoping that we can see in the next two years some real serious monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the conference at the community level.”
For Jaime Ruiz-Perez, director of program services at the Sharing Community in Yonkers, N.Y., the conference was not without disappointments. He attended a session on women and children Sunday afternoon, and said it promoted websites rather than addressing matters of substance.
Lydie Marc, an HIV health educator from Atlanta, said the intensity of the conference is what makes it appealing. “I’m really excited,” she said, clutching her thick program of sessions. “Looking at this big book, I expect there’s going to be a lot going on.”
The week will be packed with symposiums, workshops, specialized committees and youth programs. Speakers include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, philanthropist Bill Gates, and former President George W. Bush.
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For Ruiz-Perez, who attended the conference the last time it was in the United States in 1990, this is a chance to hear from the global community and to glean success stories and challenges about HIV and AIDS.
He said much has changed since the last time he was at the International AIDS Conference.
“Eighteen years ago, it was more an advocacy type of message - more of a continued struggle with government to actually accept these interventions and accept these services,” Ruiz-Perez said. “It was more of a rally-type of feeling than now. Now it’s more like ‘what can we do better.’”
©2012 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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