Sixteen years may not seem like a long time, but to the global community fighting HIV/AIDS, profound changes have occurred since the last time the International AIDS Society hosted its biennial conference in Durban, South Africa.
Looking back at the 2000 Durban conference, it’s easy to forget how different things were then. Until that point, an AIDS conference had never been held in a developing country, major governments were still denying the connection between HIV and AIDS, and millions of people lacked access to lifesaving treatments.
Ahead of the conference, more than 5,000 scientists came together to sign the “Durban Declaration,” which confirmed the overwhelming scientific evidence about the causes of AIDS.
This week, nearly two decades later, we are back in Durban for the 21st International AIDS Conference to build on our shared accomplishments and address new obstacles.
Our tools for preventing and treating the disease are more effective than ever: Mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly eliminated, anti-retroviral therapies allow people with HIV to live long and productive lives, and we are moving closer to developing a viable HIV vaccine.
Yet every year, more than 1 million people still die of AIDS, and two-thirds of all adolescent infections occur in girls. Alarmingly, 1.2 million people with HIV develop co-infection with tuberculosis, creating a pathway for the spread of anti-microbial resistance.
Our Hope for the Next 16 Years
Combating these challenges requires even greater unity within the global health community to work in more efficient, collaborative ways to achieve measurable results.
At Johnson & Johnson, our global public health strategy is focused on several ambitious goals, including ensuring that every baby is born HIV-free, adolescents and adults stay HIV-free, and people living with HIV have access to the medicines they need. We are working with a growing community of partners to achieve these goals and celebrate shared success.
An example of this multi-pronged approach to the complexities faced by communities living with HIV/AIDS is the PEPFAR DREAMS partnership. It’s a collaboration between such organizations as Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the aim of dramatically reducing HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.
Leveraging Johnson & Johnson’s consumer marketing capabilities to understand and reach adolescent girls with effective messaging, PEPFAR DREAMS addresses the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence and lack of education. We are excited by the program’s potential and have supported its continued funding and expansion by the U.S. government.
Our hope is that this year’s International AIDS Conference will represent as much of a turning point as the first Durban conference did 16 years ago. The global health community must continue to build on the unity, collaboration and innovation that have defined our efforts to defeat HIV.
Much more remains to be done, but the approaches we take today may hold the key to achieving an HIV-free world within the next 16 years.
Learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to an HIV-free world.
Jaak Peeters is the Head of Global Public Health at Johnson & Johnson.