July 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm EDT | by Benjamin Riley
International AIDS Conference begins in Australia
International AIDS Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Six prominent HIV/AIDS researchers who were traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, were passengers on a Malaysian airliner that was apparently shot down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. (Photo by Steve Forrest; courtesy of the International AIDS Society)

Editor’s note: The Star Observer, an Australian LGBT newspaper, will provide the Washington Blade coverage of the 2014 International AIDS Conference from Melbourne, Australia.

With the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne officially open, delegates will continue to remember the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, even as they are spurred to action in the global response to the epidemic.

Speaking at a media conference before the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne on Sunday, International AIDS Society (IAS) president-elect Chris Beyrer said it had been an emotional start to the week.

“As we all know, it has been a long and very emotional 48 hours, but I think that I can speak for all of my colleagues here when I say that we are ready and determined to make this conference the huge success it deserves to be,” he said.

Human rights advocate and former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby echoed Beyrer’s sentiment, and said his Dutch partner gave meant the disaster had hit particularly close to home.

“It is a very painful moment, and it’s painful for all of us, and there’s no point denying the pain,” he said.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé said it was important to understand the rapid increase in the pace of progress on HIV in recent years.

“Since the last conference in Washington there has been extraordinary progress. We estimated that by July, 14 million people had access to treatment,” he said.

“More has been done in the last three years than in the last 25 years.”

Sidibé said widespread stigma and criminalization of HIV and key affected populations meant a frighteningly high number of people around the world living with HIV, as many as half, did not know their HIV status.

Current IAS president Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said addressing barriers to accessing treatment and prevention methods, including the criminalization of men who have sex with men and other key populations affected by HIV, would be a focus for the conference.

Kirby said delegates should not be shy about using the conference as an opportunity to increase explicit pressure on governments engaged in criminalization.

“We shouldn’t all be too polite. We should be naming names and being very clear about the fact that the world is not going to put 30 million people on antiretrovirals if the countries where there are very high levels within in epidemic don’t take steps to protect themselves,” he said.

Living Positive Victoria executive officer and AIDS 2014 local co-chair Brent Allan said the Melbourne Declaration made in May this year should highlight the role of people living with HIV in the response to the epidemic, and the vital importance of ending HIV stigma.

International AIDS Conference,  gay news, Washington Blade

International AIDS Society (IAS) President-Elect Chris Beyrer, IAS President Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Steve Forrest; courtesy International AIDS Society)

Benjamin Riley is a reporter for the Star Observer. The link to his original story is here.

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