Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thoughts about the XVIth International AIDS Conference

Lucy Marcil, a 2006 graduate of Davidson College, joined me at the recent International AIDS Conference. The following is a transcript of a conversation we had about the conference. Please subscribe to The AIDS Pandemic podcast to hear our conversation.

(DW) With me today is Lucy Marcil, who attended last week’s International AIDS Conference in Toronto with me. Welcome, Lucy.

(LM) Thanks. I’m happy to be here.

(DW) What were your general impressions of the conference?

(LM) At first it seemed like 24,000 people was a little bit overwhelming. But it also was really invigorating because there was so much energy and enthusiasm. There are so many ways to tackle to HI /AIDS pandemic. It really inspired me to become more of an advocate and activist. What did you think about it?

(DW) I guess I felt similarly. I was most impressed by the diversity of the participants. It truly is an international meeting. You are as likely to sit down next to someone from South Africa as you are to sit down next to someone from the United States. And also the diversity of ideas that are featured there. There are researchers and clinicians covering basic science. As you said, there also are advocates and activists who are there, too. There really is a great deal of diversity at the conference.

You attended one of the HIV/AIDS engagement tours organized through the conference. Can you tell us a little about that?

(LM) Sure. I spent a morning at the Toronto Department of Public Health. While we were there, we learned all about their sexual health programs. They have a wide breadth of programs and really creative programs. For example, instead of relying just on department officials to do community outreach, they give grants to different community-based organizations who better know the needs of those specific populations. They also, instead of closing bathhouses as San Francisco did in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, used those to reach that risk population and better intervene in the epidemic

(DW) One of the issues that came up in a few sessions was harm reduction for injection drug users – methadone treatment programs, needle exchange programs – did that come up at all in the tour you went on?

(LM) Yes. They have needle exchange program at the Toronto downtown department. They also have vans that drive around the city and can arrange to meet drug users at any location that is convenient and do needle exchanges. So it seems like they have a really flexible program and are really working to help that population.

(DW) One of the things that really hit home for me during the conference was the number of different kinds of people at risk for HIV and the number of different kinds of treatment programs and prevention programs that you need. Certainly, injection drug users are going to require a different kind of prevention program than sex workers, for instance.

(LM) Definitely. I think that is really important and something they have realized. You have to let different groups come up with their own solutions.

(DW) For you, what was the highlight of the conference?

(LM) Probably getting to hear Paul Farmer speak a couple different times, because he is pretty much my idol! But, I also had a really interesting conversation with a guy from Sudan. That was really cool because he was from such a different part of the world and I got to learn about the HIV response in their country and also more about his country and their culture.

Did you have any similar highlights?

(DW) I guess I really enjoyed hearing Bill Clinton. He gave a talk one afternoon. That was probably the most exciting session that I attended. I think generally I was just most excited by the energy and the vitality that was present throughout the conference.

(LM) I definitely would agree with that.

(DW) So, are you planning on attending again in 2008 in Mexico City?

(LM) If I’m not still in Namibia, I will.

(DW) OK. Well, I hope we can see you there. Thanks for joining us today, Lucy.

(LM) Thanks for having me.

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