In The Field

International AIDS Meeting: Onward toward Vienna

As the AIDS conference closes in Mexico City today, we’re looking forward to the next one in Vienna in 2010 – and the shifts in the AIDS world that will hapen in the two years leading up to it.

One leadership change will happen at the end of this year, when Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, steps down. Already, names of four possible candidates for Piot’s job are floating around. It’s also possible (but not at all certain) that Mark Dybul, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, will leave his position as head of the massive U.S. foreign aid program, PEPFAR, pending the results of the November Presidetial election.

Both positions obviously carry enormous importance for the fight against AIDS. And there’s been a lot of discussion at this meeting about the sort of leadership that’s needed now in that fight. During the conference, I spoke to leaders in the global AIDS world to ask them what they expect the world to have accomplished by the time VIenna rolls around; you can read their answers here.

Clearly, the next two years will be critical for many reasons. We’re approaching 2010 – the deadline by which everyone in the world was supposed to have access to drug treatments. Critical trials of prevention interventions are expected to report results. And there is so much work to be done in rolling out prevention measures we already know work.

Perhaps most difficult of all, there are serious political issues that need to be addressed – such as laws that prevent groups such as gay men from getting the AIDS prevention and care services they need.

The new AIDS leadership will determine whether the world meets any of these goals. Already, there’s discussion and criticism about how that leadership should look. One thing is crystal clear: it must be a priority to appoint leaders who are willing to speak the truth on politically difficult subjects, such as sexual behavior and injecting drug use. Becuse all the treatment and prevention tools in the world won’t do a bit of good if we’re not getting them to the people who need them most.


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