By Hilary Bainemigisha
The first ever global scientific conference on HIV research for prevention has opened today (Oct 28) in Cape Town, South Africa. Dubbed HIV Research for Prevention 2014 (HIV R4P), the meeting brought together about 1,300 researchers, funders, advocates, clinicians, private sector partners and policy makers from 48 countries to usher in a new era in prevention science.
The conference was officially opened by the South African minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor who welcomed the delegates to the country
“South Africa is honoured to host the first ever conference because we have the highest burden of the disease in Africa,” she said. “Africa must assume responsibility of her problems and solutions. We should become our own client and not run to beg for other people’s attention. We must seek partnerships and that is why I am pleased with the international character of this conference.”
She thanked the science community for the work. “Today we are talking about 30 drugs approved for HIV, affordable and highly effective, a range of tools and convincing data that will deliver us to more technology. But we need to combine the biomedical with the behavioural strategies for zero infections, zero deaths and zero stigma.”
The conference is chaired by five of the world’s leading experts in HIV prevention research. They include one Ugandan, Dr Anatori Kamali, a clinical epidemiologist from the AIDS research centre in Entebe. Others are Prof Sharon Hillier from USA, Dr Hunter Eric from USA, Prof Helen Ress from South Africa and Prof Robin Shattock from the UK.
Kamali said: “This meeting will build on the best elements of the vaccine and microbicide meetings that used to occur separately and add on the latest research on the ever expanding array of HIV prevention technologies.”
HIV Prevention science includes strategies like ARVs for prevention, microbicides (a gel inserted into the vagina hoping to stop HIV infection – trials are still ongoing), pre-exposure prophylaxis - PrEP (ARVs you can take before exposure to protect you from HIV), vaccine research and circumcision.
The four-day long conference will have 722 abstract presentations, 30% of which came from African researchers and institutions.
During the opening, the organisers announced an award that will be given in recognition for people’s work in in HIV prevention. It was named the Desmond Tutu Award for Prevention and Human rights. Tutuwas recognized as one of the leading global activists for HIV prevention and human rights. The first award was also given to him.
The archbishop, who was not able to attend, addressed the opening ceremony by televised conference. He called upon all to come together to fight against the enemy of society
We are at a point where we can tell how far away we are from victory”, he said “Prevention cannot be forced. It must be implemented within context of human rights.”
The award was received by his daughter who called for the full engagement of the faith sector in the fight against HIV.
The conference will close on Friday.
HIV conference opens in South Africa