amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

AIDS Conference Shines Spotlight on Global Epidemic


Progress on AIDS is mixed, with some 50 countries seeing a rise in new HIV infections

“This movement that we are all called to be a part of is even bigger than the 30-plus-year fight to end AIDS,” said longtime HIV/AIDS activist Charlize Theron in an impassioned opening address at the biennial International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, which concluded on July 27. “It is inextricably linked to the centuries-long fight for equality, dignity, and human rights.”

The conference brought more than 15,000 delegates from more than 160 countries together to learn about recent developments in areas such as research, treatment, prevention, epidemiology and public policy.

Miles to Go

greg 2amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Greg MillettIn advance of the conference, UNAIDS released its latest report on the state of the epidemic titled, Miles to go: closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices. The report says that around 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2017 and some 50 countries experienced a rise in new HIV infections as a result of inadequate HIV prevention services. It also showed that 47% of new infections globally are among key populations.

A new report from the Lancet Commission, led by the International AIDS Society and presented at the conference, warns that the HIV pandemic is not on track to end by 2030 and current approaches are not enough to control it. The Commission combines the expertise of more than 40 international leaders in HIV research, policy, and public health, including amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Greg Millett. The authors propose that HIV researchers and health care professionals need to work more closely with their counterparts in global health, HIV services need to be included in wider health services, and global health policies need to incorporate HIV.

amfAR’s research, public policy, and TREAT Asia programs were well represented at the conference through presentations, posters, staff leadership and participation on panels and other sessions, and media interviews throughout the week.  

amfAR-funded scientist Dr. Brad Jones of the George Washington University led a plenary session on the search for an HIV cure and vaccine. Dr. Jones presented his own current research on harnessing the immune system’s cytotoxic T cells to eliminate the persistent reservoirs of HIV. 

amfAR Policy Associate Jennifer Sherwood presented a poster on the impact of the Mexico City Policy 
amfAR Policy Associate Jennifer Sherwood presented a poster
on the impact of the Mexico City Policy

Mexico City Policy

amfAR Public Policy staff participated in several sessions associated with the reinstated and expanded Mexico City Policy, or “global gag rule,” signed by President Trump in 2017. The policy prohibits the provision of U.S. global health funding to any foreign nongovernmental organization that performs or promotes abortion as a method of family planning, with no exemption for HIV/AIDS programming. Brian Honermann, amfAR’s deputy director of public policy, was among a panel of experts who shared evidence of the negative impacts of the policy. The topic was featured on NBC News.

amfAR’s Greg Millett hosted a Facebook Live session on HIV funding along with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Dr. Jen Kates and former executive director of the Global Fund Dr. Mark Dybul. Millett also co-led a session titled “The diseases and conditions that intersect with HIV” as part of an IAS/AVAC Journalist Fellows initiative.

Dr. Annette Sohn, director of amfAR’s TREAT Asia program, chaired a symposium that highlighted emerging issues of aging with HIV. Dr. Sohn in March was named an editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed Journal of the International AIDS Society.

Among the luminaries in attendance at the conference were Sir Elton John and Prince Harry, who together announced a $1.2 billion initiative called the MenStar Coalition to break the cycle of HIV transmission by targeting young men, among whom infections are on the rise. The coalition brings together the Elton John AIDS Foundation, PEPFAR, Unitaid, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, and Gilead Sciences.

Research News

On the research front, the news was mixed. UK researchers presented some disappointing results from the RIVER study, the first randomized controlled trial of a “kick and kill” strategy to reduce the HIV reservoir. The researchers found that a combination of the latency-reversing agent vorinostat and a therapeutic vaccine had no effect on the size of the reservoir compared to participants who were taking antiretroviral therapy alone. 

Results of the PARTNER 2 study showed that not a single case of HIV transmission resulted from approximately 76,000 acts of condomless gay sex in which the HIV-positive partner had an undetectable viral load as the result of being on antiretroviral therapy. The research builds on the previous PARTNER 1 study in 2014, which also indicated that people with an undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV.

The Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award was presented to Kenyan lawyer Allan Maleche for his role in advancing human rights for people living with HIV/AIDS. The award is cosponsored by amfAR, the International AIDS Society, and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.