REPORT: International AIDS Conference Poorly Addressed Groups Most At-Risk for HIV

Global advocacy organizations have released a new report highlighting the inadequacies of the 2012 International AIDS Conference (IAC)  program and its minimal coverage of groups most-at-risk for HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people. Over 220 organizations representing more than 70 countries  asked IAC organizers to “take concrete measures to increase coverage of HIV-related issues concerning health and human rights of these populations worldwide.”

The new report includes a comprehensive research audit and analysis of the topics and countries covered as it relates to the two categories of most-at-risk populations.

The report shows that only 17 percent of all abstracts presented at the 2012 IAC program exclusively focused on MSM and transgender people. Of these 8 percent focused on MSM and less than 1 percent of abstracts focused on transgender people, despite significantly elevated infection/incidence rates.

The lack of structural focus prevents a more broad discussion about social drivers of HIV. If the IAC wants to help the communities who are most at-risk, it must focus its attention on MSM and transgender people. According to Dr. George Ayala, executive director of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), “this meager level of coverage on issues concerning our communities at the International AIDS Conference is unacceptable.” Addressing HIV among potentially high-risk populations is key to ending the global AIDS epidemic.

The report concluded by offering five recommendations that should be considered by conference organizers, including:

1. Community consultations. Conducting community consultations with each key population to determine specific program topics.

2. Targeted call for abstracts. Use the results from the community consultations to prioritize the program topics.

3. Matching abstracts with reviewers based on expertise. Match abstracts on key populations with reviewers who have expertise with the key populations.

4. Advocating for better funding. Advocate with research institutions for more funding and support for research on key populations.

5. Increasing conference accessibility for key populations. Select a location that is accessible to MSM and transgender people, and create a scholarship for better attendance from key population leaders.

The IAC program’s poor coverage of at-risk groups, especially from lower-income countries, does nothing to solve the problems of unequal global funding for HIV research. The IAC has a unique opportunity for creating a new conversation on how to effectively help MSM and transgender people, and the recommendations in this report could be a strong first step.

Preston Mitchum is a policy analyst for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress.