Preparing for Vienna: Another International AIDS conference


Every other year, the HIV/AIDS ‘community’, an odd mixture of scientists, youth, community workers, activists, politicians, and various other groups gather in one city in the world for one of the largest conferences related to an area of scientific endeavour. Its that time of the year again – time for AIDS2010 

It is inspiring to see in these conferences the community effort rallying and supporting science to overcome one of the biggest health issues of our time; HIV/AIDS. Nigeria Health Watch (NHW) has attended most of the conferences in the recent past; Durban where it started for us…with its powerful theme “Break the Silence”, Barcelona and the launch of  the ambitious “3 by 5” initiative, Bangkok and the euphoria of ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condom Use), Toronto when it was finally “Time to Deliver”.

You can read about our experiences at those conferences

Toronto AIDS conference 2006: A Nigerian Perspective

Four years ago we were at another AIDS conference in Toronto. It was not good news, 25 years on; with close to 40 million people infected, mostly resident on our continent, it was impossible not to feel guilty about how it had all come to this. Often as workers in the “scientific community”, with our self gratifying altruistic attitude, we are all too quick to imagine that we can come up with quick solutions. But this has defied us all.

Peter Piot’s remarks during the opening ceremony were poignant;

“in an exceptional crisis, we must learn to act in exceptional ways”. 

Many scientists now moan at the lack of scientific rigor at these AIDS conferences. I will argue that it is just as important that this conference is open to a wide variety of people from all backgrounds. I remember the conference in Durban, in 2002. My decision to pursue a career in “public health” was motivated less by the over-whelming science than by the inspiration of people like Zachie Achmat , a South African activist  and founder of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). At the time, it was considered almost insane to imagine that ARVs, then costing about $10,000 per person, per year would ever be available to treat people living in Africa. Yet, Zackie Achmat and his group believed and convinced us that it was possible. Today we have seen that it is possible. This was not achieved by science or scientists!

History will not judge us by our scientific advances, but what we do with them.

Where will we be in 25 years time? A quick death from pandemic influenza, or a slow and painful death from HIV/AIDS? I remember clearly the words of Peter Piot, former Director of UNAIDS….

“we know what works….What remains is the will”. 

Next week another International Conference on HIV/AIDS starts in Vienna, Austria.

Nigeria Health Watch  will bring you the insights as it relates to our country on the blog, twitter and Facebook!

All for you!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

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