The world has made great strides since the International AIDS Conference was first held in Durban in 2000, when AIDS denialism was leading to limited access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs and donor spending on AIDS activities amounted only to a small fraction of current funding levels.
The landmark AIDS 2000 conference served as a catalyst for historic change, launching a global movement to bring life-saving treatment to the developing world, and paving the way for passage of the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the creation of The Global Fund and PEPFAR. It also solidified the role of civil society and advocacy organizations as important drivers of success. It was AIDS 2000 that forever changed the course of the AIDS epidemic and the global response.
Today, nearly 16 million people are on HIV treatment worldwide. In South Africa, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are on the decline, and the country is home to the world’s largest HIV treatment programme. Yet, sixteen years later we find ourselves at another pivotal moment in the epidemic. Many of the obstacles that impeded effective HIV prevention and treatment programmes in 2000 still exist today and the HIV epidemic risks spiralling beyond our reach without renewed investments, delivering effective prevention and treatment to all those in need and prioritizing research to find additional prevention options, an effective vaccine and a functional cure.
Recent breakthroughs in HIV prevention and treatment have largely given us the means to end the epidemic, but if we do not speed up the pace of progress we risk reversing hard-won gains. UNAIDS estimates that there will be a 10-fold increase in new HIV infections and eight times as many AIDS-related deaths by 2030 unless we act now to address and prioritize the needs of those most vulnerable. Delay is tantamount to defeat.
The actions we take now will determine future success in ending AIDS, and the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) will be the next defining moment to establish a clear path forward. Just as AIDS 2000 served as a catalyst for global treatment advocacy and access, the return of the conference to Durban this year will be a defining moment to establish a clear path toward guaranteeing that no one is left behind in the AIDS response.
This is our next historic opportunity to once again transform the world’s view of what’s possible. AIDS 2016 will focus the world’s attention on the science that matters most, provide a global platform to reinvigorate HIV advocacy and help shape the future of the global HIV agenda.