05 August 2016
Sephy Valuks

The 21st International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa brought together more than 15,000 delegates from 180 different countries to address the fight against HIV/AIDS.

STRIVE’s presence was felt throughout the event and centred at the Soul City stand which screened STRIVE videos and shared STRIVE resources. STRIVE also circulated a roadmap online and in print to help participants navigate their way through the various STRIVE sessions addressing the social and structural drivers that can hamper or support HIV prevention or treatment. 

STRIVE resources at the SOUL CITY stand

The conference focus was ‘access, equity, rights, now’ and opened by stressing the importance of reaching vulnerable populations who are unequally affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. With sombre acknowledgment of the fact that 2.1 million people were infected with HIV in 2015, the opening ceremony called for people to draw attention towards the social factors that drive the global AIDS crisis.  

"Dealing effectively with HIV will require our communities and societies to break down longstanding prejudice, hatred, and ignorance…Only when scientific advances are matched by social and cultural progress can this epidemic truly be contained.”

Justice Edwin Cameron, Constitutional Court of South Africa


“HIV is not just transmitted by sex - it is transmitted by racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia”

Charlize Theron, UN messenger of Peace

Professor Peter Piot, the first executive director of UNAIDS and now director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was quoted in a Guardian (UK) article about the conference.

“I don’t believe the slogan ‘the end of Aids by 2030’ is realistic and it could be counterproductive. It could suggest that it’s fine, it’s all over and we can move to something else. No. AIDS is still one of the biggest killers in the world.”

Peter Piot, Director, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Michele Sidibé opening speech. Credit AIDS2016

Michele Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations delivered a powerful speech in the opening ceremony which reinforced the need to break this conspiracy of complacency. 

“If we do not empower young women and girls, stop the violence and provide access to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services and rights, we cannot stop new infections…We know we are leaving people behind. When key populations still account for 35% of new infections, where is our outrage? We know how to reach gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender people and prisoners, as well as migrants.”

Michele Sidibe, Executive Director, UNAIDS

Joyce Wamoyi poster presentation

Dr Joyce Wamoyi, NIMR, STRIVE Working Group on Transactional Sex and HIV

This shift towards socio-economic factors and the need to work upstream is aligned with the work of STRIVE and our three overarching messages to tackle the structural drivers of HIV resonated throughout the conference.

  1. Structural measures are necessary to enable drugs to prevent and treat HIV successfully at population level.
  2. Structural measures to prevent HIV also achieve effective and cost-effective development outcomes.
  3. Special structural measures are required to reach vulnerable populations including adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo credit: Jane Shepherd and AIDS2016.