IAS ‘Committed To Improving’ AIDS Conferences, Opinion Piece Says
Although the International AIDS Society "commends" Lancet editor Richard Horton for his "provocative" opinion piece regarding the XVI International AIDS Conference, which was held in Toronto in August, some of his statements "merit a response from the IAS as lead organizer of these meetings," IAS President Pedro Cahn and IAS Executive Director Craig McClure write in a Lancet opinion piece (Cahn/McClure, Lancet, 10/28). In his opinion piece, Horton wrote that the "opportunity to produce a roadmap to reach the 2010 target of universal access" to antiretroviral drugs was "squandered," adding, "Rarely has there been a meeting that felt so disengaged from a global predicament of such historic proportions." According to Horton, the agenda at the conference was "unfocused, giving prime air time to celebrities" -- such as President Clinton and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates -- "while largely ignoring Africa" (Horton, Lancet, 8/26).
IAS in 2005 "undertook the first comprehensive review" of the AIDS conferences "in an effort to maximize" their "reach and impact," Cahn and McClure write, adding that the society also is "strengthening the conference's role as an accountability mechanism." In addition, the Toronto conference "highlighted many key issues," such as HIV diagnostic tests, the increasing number of women affected by the disease, and the need for improved coordination between HIV and other disease programs, the authors write. They add that conference sessions "proposed strategies for addressing the desperate shortfall of health care workers in the developing world" and "drove home the message that scientific evidence should prevail over political expediency in critical areas." Although international AIDS conferences do not have either the "mandate" or a "formal mechanism to establish a road map for specific targets or to hold specific countries accountable for action on HIV/AIDS," they do "provide an important forum for drawing attention to the successes and failures of governments," according to the authors. They add that in planning the next international AIDS conference -- which is scheduled to be held in 2008 in Mexico City -- IAS "aims to provide further opportunities ... to review progress in countries and across regions." In addition, Horton's "dismissal" of Gates and Clinton "negates the strong leadership of these individuals and that of their foundations in contributing to the global response" to HIV/AIDS, Cahn and McClure write, adding that "[s]ubstantial effort was made to include an eminent African in the opening session of the conference" and that "more Africans spoke in sessions" during the Toronto conference "than ever before." IAS is "committed to improving the conference and strengthening its role beyond a five-day event to becoming part of an ongoing cycle of education, networking, promotion of best practice and advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS," the authors conclude (Lancet, 10/28).