On July 17, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine and crashed, killing over 300 passengers and crew members — while halfway across the world, the global health and development community was preparing for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia to continue fighting for a world free of the disease by 2030.
These two events, three days apart and thousands of miles away from each other, seem unrelated but from them bore a more inspired and renewed fight against HIV and AIDS that kills millions every year. At least six of the MH17 victims were delegates expected at the meeting that kicked off on Sunday, including former International AIDS Society chief Joep Lange.
For the current IAS President Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, their fate should be an inspiration for the rest of the community to do better and double up efforts to cure HIV and AIDS, not just physically, but also the emotional and social stigma that comes with it.
“Everybody is in shock. It’s a real tragedy,” Barré-Sinoussi said in an interview during the opening ceremony of the conference. “It was very important for us, thinking about our colleagues, to move on and to show people that we will continue the fight and this is the best tribute I think we can make.”
According to the UNAIDS Gap Report, more people are still living with HIV and AIDS today despite progress both in research and medicine — over 30 antiretroviral drugs and 11 prevention strategies available — with 2.1 million people newly infected in 2013 despite an infections drop rate of 38 percent since 2001. More than 35 million people still live with the disease worldwide, 19 million unknowingly because of lack of access to tests or fear of taking them.
But the coming together of people and institutions in an event like the conference in Melbourne is a tremendous beginning for achieving the goal of a world free of HIV and AIDS by 2030. Barré-Sinoussi argued that solidarity will equally help the effort along with intensified research and mobilization through increased funding and involvement.
“I think it’s this network and partnership between … I mean we call us the HIV and AIDS ‘community’, and I don’t think in any other kind of disease you have the same kind of thing,” she said. “It’s just everybody together fighting with the same objective, with the same goal, to try and do the best for the affected population.”
Fighting the disease
Although there have been advances in the fight against the disease — with the latest development being a way to find the virus in “hiding places” in the organism called the “kick-and-kill” approach — totally eradicating the disease will still need the full attention of the medical and development community, and vigilance of everyone.
“For prevention, for everything which is for the benefit of the population: prevention, treatment, care,” the IAS chief shared. “I think, really, it's just a question of respect of life only.”
1. Voluntary testing and treatment reaching everyone, everywhere.
2. Each person living with HIV reaching viral suppression.
3. No one dies from an AIDS-related illness or is born with HIV.
4. People living with HIV live with dignity, protected by laws and free to move and live anywhere in the world.
Activists, anti-HIV/AIDS supporters, and even sex workers are currently in a mobilization march in Melbourne, Australia to show support for the fight against the disease, as well as uplift the spirits and erase the social and emotional stigma that people living with HIV and AIDS suffer.
Check out this infographic from Crowd360 and The Lancet on the facts about sex workers and the myths that help spread the disease.
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