South African AIDS Conference 2015

29 July 2015
Annie Holmes

With the HIV field poised for major shifts, the conference took as its theme Reflection, Refocus and Renewal. Held in Durban, 9–12 June 2015, this 7th SAAIDS Conference addressed a range of challenges and opportunities.

With the HIV field poised for major shifts, the conference took as its theme Reflection, Refocus and Renewal. Held in Durban, 9–12 June 2015, this 7th SAAIDS Conference addressed a range of challenges and opportunities:

  • the mainstreaming of HIV budgets within public health
  • the costs of sustaining and expanding access to anti-retroviral drugs
  • the new framing of international development in the shift from Millenium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals

How do we as a field reflect on the evidence, and then use it to refocus and renew our efforts and energies to align with new funding streams and targets such as 90-90-90 without losing sight of the big picture of the people behind these figures and the socio-economic and structural factors that influence people’s lives and their risk of HIV.”

Deborah Baron, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute

Adolescent girls

Sinéad Delany-Moretlwe, Research Director of STRIVE partner Wits RHI, gave an influential plenary presentation. Entitled The Tale of Two Epidemics, her talk explained the high risk of both HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) that adolescent girls face in sub-Saharan Africa. She synthesised existing evidence on the associations between the two epidemics and on promising interventions to address them.

On 15 July 2015, Delany-Moretlwe gave a slightly adapted version of the presentation as a STRIVE Learning Lab. A video and pdf of the presentation are available on the STRIVE website. For this excellent synthesis, Dr Delany-Moretlwe drew on her own work on adolescent girls’ HIV risk and resilience, together with discussions from STRIVE's high-level consultation on violence against women and girls and HIV, Greentree II, (12–14 May 2015, Greentree Estate, New York). 

The intersection of HIV and violence arose as a key theme in various sessions. Participants shared learning from initiatives such as Stepping Stones and Creating Futures through the DFID-funded What Works consortium.

Outside the official conference, the Women’s Networking Zone hosted discussions among young women on their needs for rolling out PrEP, such as accessible clinics that offer a range of services for young people. A new initiative that has emerged from STRIVE, the EMPOWER consortium, participated in the dialogue, describing an upcoming demonstration project to investigate integrating violence prevention and combination HIV prevention, including PrEP, in South Africa and Tanzania. 

Epidemiology, Prevention and Public Health

Deborah Baron, also of Wits RHI, co-chaired this track of the conference. The aim was to focus on the dynamics of the HIV epidemic. Of particular interest for STRIVE within this track was the renewed attention to combination prevention approaches and to structural determinants of HIV (such as alcohol and migration).

Along with plenty of excitement about the advances in the biomedical HIV prevention field, there was also pause for concern and reflection from civil society, led by South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. National health systems and clinics continue to struggle with human resources shortages and stock outs of essential medications for treating HIV and other diseases.

The conference provided a valuable forum and platform for South African researchers, clinicians, civil society, advocates and government to come together and do precisely what the conference asked of everyone – reflect, refocus and renew. 

Deborah Baron, Wits RHI