19 July, 2016 12:49

Launch of the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016)

The Opening Ceremony officially kicked off the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) on Monday, Nelson Mandela Day. The conference returns to Durban 16 years after Mandela himself addressed the gathering with an historic speech that called upon all to "break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS." "This is the one event," Mandela said, "where every word uttered, every gesture made, has to be measured against the effect it can and will have on the lives of millions of concrete, real human beings all over this continent and planet."

Following a record-setting weekend of pre-conferences, AIDS 2016 began in earnest with events focusing global attention on the need to strengthen the global AIDS response. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon, joined the conference opening briefing, met with civil society leaders and provided an update on the work of his panel on access to medicines. IAS President Chris Beyrer announced that a full third of the abstracts being presented at AIDS 2016 are by African researchers, and that this is the first AIDS conference ever in which the majority of papers will be presented by women.

The conference theme, Access Equity Rights Now, resounded across a series of opening day media briefings focused on protecting the most vulnerable populations and on scaling up prevention and treatment for women, girls, and all young people.

At the conference opening briefing, Michele Sidibé of UNAIDS, joined by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, recalled another hero of the 2000 conference, 11-year-old activist Nkosi Johnson, whose impassioned plea for equitable access to ARTs helped open new avenues of treatment access for millions. But Mr. Sidibé also decried a worrying decline in donor financing for HIV that promises to make the global scale up of treatment and prevention, considered essential to ending the epidemic, even more challenging if not reversed quickly. And actor and UN Messenger of Peace Charlize Theron challenged the audience to ask why we do not care enough to about young people. "They are the forgotten ones," Theron said, acknowledging the tremendous progress made in preventing HIV transmission to infants, but asking why we continue to overlook the enormity of the HIV epidemic in young people, especially young girls.

The topic of prevention in women and girls dominated the afternoon. Researchers presented new data showing a high rate of HIV protection among women who used the dapivirine ring consistently. And in another of the day’s biggest stories, new data from South Africa’s Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) group, showing that certain types of vaginal bacterial may make some women more susceptible to HIV and less responsive to treatment, had conference goers talking about possible new avenues to reducing women’s risk of HIV.

Throughout the day, starting from the early morning, there were satellite sessions and sessions taking place in the Global Village. There were lively discussions on sessions, including scaling up treatment to reach more people living with HIV to treat all and to handle new demands on health systems given current capacity challenges, as well as bringing young leaders to the forefront with a platform to discuss challenges faced in HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights. Visit our daily rapporteur reports for more in-depth summaries of the sessions here.

There was no shortage of luminaries, star power or moving moments at the evening’s Opening Ceremony, which featured actress and activist Charlize Theron, AIDS 2016 Co-Chairs Chris Beyrer and Olive Shisana, UNAIDS Director Michel Sidibé, a video message from Desmond Tutu, the presentation of the Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award to Zimbabwean activist, feminist and LGBT champion Martha Tholanah, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies MchunuNkhensani Mavasa of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, and rousing performances by Strong Girls and from South African Afro-fusion band Freshlyground – all before a capacity crowd celebrating the opening of AIDS 2016.

Get the latest conference updates and share your thoughts and ideas through the AIDS 2016 social media channels.

  • Tweet along with us – @AIDS_conference and @iasociety – using #AIDS2016 to keep the conversation going.
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  • Check us out on Instagram to see photos as they are happening.

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