July 23, 2012
The opening session of AIDS 2012 is the anchor event for many attendees. This is the place where world leaders in the AIDS movement say their piece and inspire attendees to continue their work. Speakers at this year’s session were numerous and notable, including World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who delivered the message that his organization cares and wants to see more involvement of civil society in shaping global anti-poverty programs (despite years of insisting that countries scale down their social safety nets to receive World Bank financial assistance). The conference co-chairs, Diane Havlir and Elly Katabira, along with the Deputy President of South Africa also urged conference attendees to embrace the goal of eliminating HIV in our generation. All good stuff.
The highlight of the evening was Annah Sango from the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS who spoke most poignantly about the need to integrate women’s issues into the international AIDS agenda. She praised the work of NGO’s addressing the needs of people who use drugs and reminded the audience that the way forward cannot proceed without the voices of those most affected, including people who use drugs, women, and sex workers. Speakers made it clear that organizations focused on AIDS in a global context have had major successes at scaling up prevention and treatment. Yet it was apparent that discussion of controversial issues like the decriminalization or even legalization of drugs was a nonstarter. Last night’s speakers briefly mentioned needle exchange but the overall framework of global drug policy was clearly not on the agenda.
These profound absences were supposed to be remedied by the 2010 Vienna Declaration. But the lack of drug policy discussion last night makes it clear why CDPC’s presence is needed in Washington this week. Our work is to remind attendees that drug policy is AIDS policy and that harm reduction interventions and a discussion of legal frameworks should not only be up for discussion, but are central to the conference’s goal of an AIDS-free generation.