23rd Virtual AIDS Conference begins, focuses on HIV, COVID-19

The first ever virtual edition of the world’s largest conference on HIV opened on Monday, with focus on links between HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opening ceremony of the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020: Virtual) which would hold from July 6 to July 10, also recognised global debates around racism.

The conference, originally scheduled to hold in San Francisco and Oakland, had delegates from 175 countries.

The opening press conference featured presentation of two studies from Ms Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS and Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Anton Pozniak, the President of International AIDS Society (IAS) and AIDS 2020: Virtual  International Scientific Chair, said that the moment was a remarkable and defining time for the global HIV movement across the world.

He said “every conversation we have now sits at the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new global reckoning with systemic racism.”

Ms Byanyima presented findings from the UNAIDS 2020 Global AIDS Update entitled “Seizing the Moment: Tackling entrenched inequalities to end epidemics” and launched at the opening.

She said that the findings included a special chapter outlining the potential impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic could have in low-and middle-income countries on supplies of the generic antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV.

She added that “even before the onset of COVID-19, the new UNAIDS Global Report shows that the world was not on track to reach its goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.”

“We cannot drop the ball on HIV. We must double down and increase our efforts to hold governments and policy makers to account. “Epidemics run along the fault lines of inequalities and we can and must close the gaps,” Byanyima said.

Ghebreyesus shared findings of a new WHO survey, showing significant disruptions in access to HIV treatment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said “the findings of this survey are deeply concerning. Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it.

“We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease,” Ghebreyesus said.

Authors of the two studies released at the virtual conference also shared findings related to the intersection of COVID-19 and HIV. (NAN)