Virtual meeting: AIDS conference in the shadow of Corona


The 23rd World AIDS Conference is affected by the corona pandemic. Experts are convinced that the world can learn lessons from the fight against the HI virus for the current crisis.

By Antje Passenheim, ARD studio New York

The organizers had carefully chosen the San Francisco conference location: the city that was more affected by AIDS in the 1980s than any other in the western world. And which has come ever closer to its goal through its revolutionary health policy: “Getting to Zero” – no new infections.

But the thousands of participants in the 23rd World AIDS Conference can only visit San Francisco virtually because of Corona. You can find out about the latest research and trends in more than 600 video events. Medical doctor Max Appenroth would also be in California now. The doctoral student at the Berlin Charite also takes part in the conference as a human rights activist with the organization Global Action for Trans Equality. He is committed to the equality of trans people.

High HIV numbers among trans people

Appenroth explains that there are still many barriers to HIV treatment, especially for people who do not identify with the gender that was assigned to them at birth: “Transpeople have a great deal of experience of discrimination in the health sector because they are rejected there. “

The changeover to a virtual conference is particularly important for the group. Because they have never really been seen at any of the major AIDS conferences. There are few but alarming statistics in connection with the immune deficiency disease. “For example, the largest study on this has shown that one in five black trans women in the United States lives with HIV. These are extremely high numbers.”

Such problems should have room at the AIDS conference. The focus is also on the status of medications, which have been ensuring that the infection rate is steadily decreasing for years and that disease no longer has to be fatal. Around 38 million people live with the HI virus worldwide. Not everyone has access to the medication that can help them grow old with AIDS. How does the climate crisis affect HIV? And what can we learn from dealing with AIDS in combating other pandemics?

Prominent participants

The famous US Corona Task Force virologists Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx will also attend the conference. They call for more commitment: “The HIV epidemic has been resolved by the community. The activists have stood up when no one wanted to hear it. We are calling for the community to get up again to fight the virus,” said Birx.

She coordinates the White House corona struggle – often against pressure from President Donald Trump. She was also an AIDS emergency coordinator under ex-President Barack Obama and also has this role under Trump. Fauci’s virologist career also began in AIDS research. At the time, both worked closely with the medical centers in San Francisco, where there was the first AIDS clinic in the whole country.

The world has learned a lot from San Francisco about how to successfully deal with AIDS. At the AIDS conference, she could now do that about the new pandemic called Covid-19, so many participants hope.

Don’t forget AIDS because of Corona

Activists like the Berlin doctor Appenroth also hope, however, that AIDS research will not have any disadvantages about the concern about the corona crisis. “It just shows that applications for funding for certain projects or conferences that could take place next year are no longer available. On the grounds that the money is unfortunately no longer available.”

The World AIDS Conference – even if it is virtual – is therefore all the more important for many.

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