Friday marked the end of the XVIth International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Along with Lucy Marcil, a 2006 graduate of Davidson College, I had the pleasure of attending the conference to present our work on developing an HIV/AIDS education web site. With 30,000 some delegates, this year’s conference was the biggest meeting ever devoted to AIDS.
From an opening ceremony that featured Alicia Keyes, the Blue Man Group, and the Bare Naked Ladies, to special sessions featuring Bill and Melinda Gates and former president Bill Clinton, the star power was high. But the real stars were not these high-profile celebrities. In my opinion, the real stars included Sasha Volgina, an HIV positive injection drug user from St. Petersburg Russia, who works for FrontAIDS, an HIV/AIDS advocacy group in Russia, Kerrel McKay, a 21 year old from Jamaica who became involved with HIV outreach when she was 15 years old, and the countless advocates, activists, researchers, and clinicians from throughout the world who attended the conference.
A major focus of this year’s conference was the empowerment of women and girls. As several speakers noted, women throughout the world too often are denied adequate educational opportunities, too often lack economic independence, too often are sexually abused, and too often cannot adequately protect themselves from HIV. All of these factors must change.
Microbicides may be part of the answer. In one session, Gita Ramjee eloquently described current research into the development of anti-HIV microbicides. These gels could be applied intra-vaginally by women, thereby allowing them to protect themselves from HIV. These microbicides, then, would empower women and stop, to some degree, a reliance on prevention methods controlled by their sexual partner. More information about microbicides can be found at the Alliance for Microbicide Development web site: www.microbicide.org.