AIDS Conference, First Held in U.S. in 22 Years, Kicks Off

Sections of The Quilt were on display on The National Mall and at more than 50 other locations throughout the Washington, D.C. area from July 21-­ 25, 2012.
Jeff Malet
Sections of The Quilt were on display on The National Mall and at more than 50 other locations throughout the Washington, D.C. area from July 21-­ 25, 2012.

Thousands of AIDS activists gathered on the National Mall July 22, looked at the unfurled AIDS quilt there, listen to a concert by Wyclef Jean and heard speeches in a huge rally on the mall called “Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS.”

The rally, sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, helped kick off the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), the first held in the United States in 22 years, around the theme of “Turning the Tide Together” at a time which organizers have called a “defining moment in the history of the AIDS epidemic.”

The conference, which kicked off Sunday and will see sessions, speeches and activities -- primarily in the Washington Convention Center -- runs through July 27, with the expectation of some 25,000 persons attending the conference and activities throughout Washington.

“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, chair of AIDS 2012 and president of the International AIDS Society. “My message to policy makers around the entire world watching us here in DC is this—invest in science, invest in the epidemic—you will save lives,” said Diane Havlir of AIDS 2012 and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said, “In the 22 years since this conference was held on American soil, we have made long-awaited breakthroughs in science and treatment. 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.”

The previous international AIDS conference held in the U.S. was in San Francisco in 1990. It could not return because of travel restrictions to the U. S. for persons with HIV-AIDS. Since then, in a process initiated by President George W. Bush and completed by President Barack Obama, the U.S. restrictions have been lifted, paving the way for the conference in D.C.

At Sunday’s opening session, which featured a welcoming address by Mayor Vincent Gray, actress Sharon Stone presented the IAS/amfAR Elizabeth Taylor Award in recognition of efforts to advocate for human rights in the field of HIV.

Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton was the keynote speaker at the July 23 plenary session on “Ending the Epidemic: Turning the Tide Together.” It also included remarks by Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, Bill Gates, Jim Young Kim of the World Bank and Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS coordinator. The special session “Can Public-Private Partnership Help Those Who Think Globally, Act Locally?” featured a keynote speech by Elton John.

Other major speakers throughout the week will include former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush, South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, and French cabinet ministers Marisol Touraine and Genevieve Fioraso among others.

For all activities, plenary sessions, speakers and online video and streaming availabilities for the conference, go to the AIDS2012 website.

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