From 23 to 27 July 2018, Amsterdam was the proud host of AIDS 2018, the 22nd International AIDS Conference. Its main events were based at RAI Amsterdam, where 16,000 guests from around the world congregated to inform, share and learn.
The key themes discussed during the conference included: ‘Breaking barriers of inequity in the HIV response’; ‘Building bridges for the next generation’; and ‘Building bridges from scientific innovation to implementation’. These topics brought a wealth of international guests together, young and old, from a variety of scientific, political, activist and media backgrounds.
Why Amsterdam for AIDS 2018?
In 2018, the Netherlands pledged to spend around €430 million to better protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women, men and young people in developing countries. “There’s been progress, but HIV continues to spread. We still haven’t managed to achieve HIV prevention on a large scale and to offer treatment to 15 million people with AIDS,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Sigrid Kaag told the gathered audience.
And during the event, the Dutch government announced that it will set aside €10 million for a special fund for HIV prevention and making antiviral drugs more accessible for vulnerable groups such as drug users, transgender people and sex workers. In the coming years, this amount will be invested in regions where the disease is continuing to spread: Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and West and North Africa.
Spreading the message through Amsterdam
As well as international health professionals, researchers, policymakers, activists and charities, AIDS 2018 also touched the hearts of regular Amsterdammers and visitors, thanks to a cultural programme that took place throughout the city. Examples of this included the ‘Positive Flame Tour’, a pop-up safe sex shop in the Red Light District, a Sex Worker’s Opera, and special art exhibitions at the Amsterdam City Archives and EYE Film Museum about the history of HIV and AIDS. “It was nearly impossible to venture to any part of the city, without seeing AIDS 2018 banners or an AIDS red ribbon visible,” said Mandy Sugrue, the International AIDS Society's communications director.
Famous names at AIDS 2018
While the researchers, medical professionals and policymakers play an essential role at the core of the International AIDS Conference programming, a number of famous names always capture the attention of the public, and AIDS 2018 was no different. Special guests in Amsterdam included actress Charlize Theron (who gave the opening address), singer Elton John, former US president Bill Clinton, Eurovision winner Conchita, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex from the UK. Alongside other international ambassadors and politicians, their contributions helped to spread the word internationally, particularly when taking part in the AIDS 2018 Live! programme, broadcast on Facebook.
What the International AIDS Society said
“AIDS 2018 was a historic week in the global AIDS response. It provided a platform for the largest participation of young people at any other AIDS conference, ensuring the voices of the next generation were heard and had a seat at the table,” Sugrue said. “The conference presented critical data and science on how to reach the people and communities most vulnerable to HIV, highlighting the importance of leaving no one behind in the HIV response. And it spotlighted the growing epidemic in neighbouring Eastern Europe, reminding us and the world that AIDS is not over.”
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