19th IAS World AIDS Conference, 22–25 July 2012, Washington

AIDS 2012 Turning the tide togetherOver the last decade, the International AIDS Society (IAS) World AIDS Conference has increasingly focused on social rather than scientific aspects of HIV and this trend continued this year.

About 85% of over 3000 studies and presentations were on human rights, funding, access, policy, prevention, access to care and issues of stigma. The majority of clinical studies were posters (a summary presented on a 2 x 1 metre display) and this year, only 25 posters each day focused on early or basic science (Track A) and less than 75 on clinical studies (Track B). From over 80 hours of podcasts only five sessions were focused on treatment.

So although the important clinical studies are reported below, the web casts on the social, political and human rights aspects provide the context for the main meeting. The panelists and speakers in many of these sessions sometimes provide more insight into some settings than a test tube or statistical calculation.

More than 20,000 delegates attend, but within a few hours of the closing sessions the halls empty and the venue prepares for computer games (where IAS stands for Increased Attack Speed), or life empowerment, booked for the following week. And it becomes easier to distill the point of the activity and expense.

With this more than other medical conferences, certain issues usually come to represent the meeting rather than headline results based on new scientific advances. Remembering the impossibly slow progress of the “3×5” campaign (3 million people on treatment by 2005), this conference, with its shift to focus on treatment access has sailed past this once-daunting goal.

So this year the conference marked the time when more than eight million people in low and middle-income countries are able to access and remain on treatment. And although the media focus was “Turning the Tide Together”, achieving 8 million people on treatment is probably a more tangible focus.

Programme strengths this year included:

A platform for speeches

On policy and access, and for HIV positive people and activists leading many of the community responses to give their diverse perspectives on a world stage.

Asserting the focus on a cure

Many sessions included early research connected to a cure, including a pre-meeting workshop.

Clinical data

Highlights included new drugs for HIV and TB, children’s health and other studies.

HIV prevention

With an emphasis this year focusing on policy and implementation rather than new clinical data. This especially focused on Treatment as Prevention (TasP), PrEP, circumcision, needle-exchange, and infant and maternal access to treatment.

HIV and long-term health

The increasing focus on inflammation as a concern, overlapping with ageing and use of earlier treatment.

To launch publications and reports

Many publications contain more detail and planning that could fit into a single symposium or poster, and most are available free online.

Other community events

The conference incuded a “Global Village” for many community events. This year, more than 50,000 quilts hung in the conference halls and laid out along part of the National Mall Park near the Washington Memorial and 50 other locations in Washington.

Reports in this issue of HTB include:

Links to other websites are current at date of posting but not maintained.