The message was the same, inside and outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where 25,000 conference-
goers will meet through Friday.
“This opportunity will evaporate if we do not act,” Michel Sidibe, head of the United Nations agency UNAIDS, said at the conference’s opening ceremony Sunday evening. “This opportunity will slip through our fingers, and history will never forgive us.”
“AIDS activists, you’ve gotten lazy!” Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told a crowd at the foot of the Washington Monument earlier in the day.
“The world is depending on you. You cannot rest until AIDS is under control. People living with HIV, you’re the conscience of the world,” he said. “Your voice must be louder!”
The world now spends about $17 billion a year in AIDS prevention and treatment in the developing world. About 8 million people there are now on life-extending antiretroviral drugs, most started in just the past few years. The goal is to have 15 million on therapy by 2015, which will require $7 billion more per year.
Recent research has shown that people on treatment almost never infect anyone else — a fact that has led to the call for “treatment as prevention.”
“It would be an extraordinary failure . . . if financial constraints truncated our ability to begin to end AIDS, just when the science has shown us that this goal is achievable,” said Diane V. Havlir, an AIDS physician at the University of California in San Francisco and co-chair of the 19th International AIDS Conference.
As in all these meetings, the opening ceremony featured an eclectic mix of speakers, including D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and a 24-year-old HIV-positive woman from Zimbabwe. Not present was President Obama. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, represented the administration.
She announced four public-private partnerships to improve access to HIV care in the United States and especially to keep people from dropping out of care. Only 28 percent of Americans with the infection are now treated optimally.
The Zimbabwean woman, Annah Sango, spoke for women, who are the majority of new cases in Africa, and for people in countries where stigma holds back a full assault on the epidemic.
She told listeners in the huge, darkened hall that she was transitioning to adulthood and “would like to do that in a safe space that allows me to access and exercise all my rights, a safe space that will allow me to be the best I can be in life. How have you been accountable in creating that space for me and everyone else?”