Under the theme Turning the Tide Together, more than 23,000 delegates from over 195 countries gathered in Washington, D.C. for the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) to begin the march toward the end of the AIDS epidemic.
Noting that recent scientific advances have changed the landscape of the epidemic, delegates will dedicate the week to presenting the latest scientific research and building momentum toward ensuring that financing and global leadership across all sectors keep pace with scientific progress against HIV.
The conference runs through Friday, 27 July at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. "Our return to the United States after a 22-year absence comes at a time of extraordinary hope, a time when we believe that the end of the AIDS epidemic is possible, said Elly Katabira International Chair of AIDS 2012 and President of the International AIDS Society (IAS).
"AIDS 2012 is an important opportunity to thank the American people and highlight the millions of lives saved as a result of generous U.S. contributions to the global fight against AIDS and its leadership in HIV research."
"There is no doubt, that our progress over the past 30 years has been impressive, but maintaining the status quo is simply not enough," said Dr. Diane Havlir, U.S. Co-Chair of AIDS 2012 and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
"My message to policy makers around the entire world watching us here in D.C. is this - invest in science, invest in the epidemic - you will save lives." Drs. Katabira and Havlir called on delegates and allies around the world to sign The Washington, D.C. Declaration, the official declaration of AIDS 2012.
The declaration calls for renewed urgency and seeks to build broad support for beginning to end the AIDS epidemic through a nine-point action plan.
The Opening Session included remarks from a range of U.S. and global leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (via video), U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Ambassador Mark Dybul and Annah Sango of Zimbabwe.
"In the 22 years since this conference was held on American soil, we have made long-awaited breakthroughs in science and treatment," said Secretary Sebelius.
"Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy. Now is not the time for easing up, slowing down, or shifting our focus. If we are going to reach our ultimate goal of an AIDS-free generation, we must all challenge ourselves to do more - to reach even more people, to make programs even more effective and accountable, to push the boundaries of science even further."
"Sustained progress in the AIDS response is accelerating our journey to Zero," said Michel Sidibé. "It is now time for a new AIDS agenda and new partnerships based on shared responsibility, mutual accountability and global solidarity."
Congresswoman Lee noted that "the return of the International AIDS Conference to the United States at this pivotal time is a long overdue opportunity for our domestic epidemic to become part of a global effort working to achieve a world without AIDS.
From California to Cameroon, we are literally at a tipping point in the fight against AIDS- and at no time in history has our global leadership been more important to address the ongoing challenges in our own country and around the world."
"Young people need to move from being passengers to drivers, Sexual reproductive health rights are fundamental to everyone the sooner we appreciate that the closer we get to making a difference in the lives of women and young people," said Annah Sango.
The International AIDS Conference was last held in the U.S. in 1990 in San Francisco. U.S restrictions on the entry of people living with HIV prohibited the conference's return in the ensuing 20 years. Following years of advocacy and under a process initiated by President George W. Bush and finished by President Barack Obama, the U.S. restrictions were lifted in 2010, paving the way for the conference's return.