Photo: Discussion with Bill Gates (Chairman of Microsoft & Philanthropist), Ambassador Goosby (United States Global AIDS Coordinator), Jim Kim (World Bank President),and Dr Mphu Keneiloe Ramatlapeng (former Lesotho Health Minister) - Washington Convention Center, Washington DC

A six-day international conference aimed at turning the tide against the HIV/AIDS pandemic opened Sunday 22nd July, 2012 in the Capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. with a call for a renewed political, organizational and individual will in order to tenaciously fight to combat AIDS.

The International AIDS Society says there is need for people, governments and organizations to change attitudes towards HIV AIDS and renew their commitment to the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

“With so many figures and statistics, it is easy to forget that the numbers are people, a spouse, a sister, a brother or a neighbor. So, as we work together to usher in a new era and generation free of AIDS, it is everyone’s responsibility to fight against AIDS.”  The Society is quoted as imploring the participants to the conference.

The conference, the fourth of its kind to be hosted by the International AIDS Society in the United States has brought together 22-thousand participants from all walks of life from 195 countries, a third of whom are described as low to middle income, Malawi included.

The International AIDS Society says the participants include government and non-governmental organizations activists, health workers, people living with HIV, policy makers, scientists and researchers.

The conference comes against a backdrop of the lifting by President Barack Obama of the 20 year travel ban into the United States of people living with HIV/AIDS. The process to lift the ban was initiated by the George Walker Bush administration.

According to the International AIDS Society, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

“With innovation, access to AIDS treatment and continued responsible behavior on the part of people the tide against the pandemic is changing for the better thereby ushering in an AIDS free generation as time goes by.” The Society is quoted as observing.

It went on to say, “Fear, loss and the pain that engulfed the world as it grappled with the pandemic at its inception have morphed into enduring hope for the better with science, research and innovation.”

The Aids society observes that the Global Health Fund program and PEPFAR have helped 8-million people worldwide gain access to HIV/AIDS treatment, representing only half of the total population infected with the pandemic.

“However, the goal is to achieve zero new HIV infections including mother to child transmission, zero discrimination and zero AIDS –related deaths by 2015.” The Society pointed out.

According to a UNAIDS 2011 report, new HIV infections and AIDS related deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic. New HIV infections were reduced by 21% since 1997, and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses decreased by 21% since 2005.

UNAIDS and the World Health Organization-WHO estimate that  47-percent  representing 6.6 million of the estimated 14.2 million people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries were accessing lifesaving antiretroviral therapy in 2010, an increase of 1.35 million since 2009.

UNAIDS and WHO say globally 2.5 million deaths have been averted since 1995.

The two organizations state that new HIV infections have been significantly reduced or have stabilized in most parts of the world.

According to the UNAIDS and WHO, in sub-Saharan Africa the number of new HIV infections has dropped by more than 26%, from the height of the epidemic in 1997, led by a one third drop in South Africa, the country with the largest number of new HIV infections in the world.

The organizations point out that the declines in new HIV infections are also being spurred by changes in sexual behavior, particularly in young people, as people reduce their numbers of sexual partners, increase condom use and are waiting longer before becoming sexually active.

UNAIDS and WHO observes that HIV prevalence declined among young people in at least 21 of 24 countries with national HIV prevalence of 1% or higher.

Malawi is taking part in the conference.  The theme and goals of the conference as they relate to reducing mother to child infection and maternal death are in line with the Joyce Banda administration’s drive to reduce both infant and maternal death in Malawi.  The Malawi government is among other initiatives encouraging mothers to undergo HIV/AIDS testing in bid to prevent mother to child AIDS transmissions.