It may be a year until the International AIDS Conference returns to the U.S. – to D.C., specifically – but the planning is well underway, as one would imagine for the world's largest HIV/AIDS conference, poised to bring more than 20,000 delegates to the city.
But as the scientists, advocates and the rest wrestle with the latest in HIV/AIDS in the halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, others will take to the streets. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) officially announced the march and rally, ''Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS,'' Tuesday with a press conference in a Newseum studio.
''Because this AIDS conference is a time when the world advocates, doctors, scientists, researchers, policy makers and the media focus more closely on AIDS than at any other time, we intend to take full advantage of this to get important messages out about the global and domestic fight against AIDS,'' Barbara Chinn, well known in the community for her years with Whitman-Walker Clinic, who now serves as AHF's program manager for prevention, testing and community outreach, told the small audience. ''We believe this march and rally is key.''
So far, more than a thousand organizations from around the world have signed on to this effort, supporting the ''Keep the Promise'' declaration, which includes increasing funding for antiretroviral treatment, universal condom access, prioritizing HIV/AIDS treatment for orphans, and several other points.
Terri Ford, AHF's senior director of global advocacy and policy and lead coordinator of past conference marches and rallies, said the International AIDS Conference's return to the U.S. coincides with an unfortunate turn in the epidemic.
''In this country, we have seen a resurgence of grassroots activism on AIDS and that is because of a new threat – and an old threat: access to life-saving medication. … A growing number of Americans are on waiting lists for the drugs they need to stay alive. This is not acceptable. Thousands of activists from around the country will be pouring into D.C. for the march on Washington on July 22, 2012, as well as 25,000 delegates from around the world coming to the conference. It's the window of opportunity that we must seize. ''
Speaking after the conference, Chinn said that the march, as well as the conference, may go far in helping to minimize the stigma that she says still plays a large part in fueling HIV transmission in the District.
''It's one of the largest barriers that we fight,'' she said. ''I think [the march, rally and conference] should have a very serious impact, help lessen [stigma]. It will also put pressure on the U.S. government to 'keep the promise.' As the world leader, I think we have that responsibility, first to our citizens, then second, to the rest of the world.''
Dr. Roxanne Cox-Iyamu, medical director at D.C.'s Blair Underwood Clinic, and Omonigho Ufomata, AHF's director of global advocacy and policy, also spoke at the July 26 event.
To learn more about the ''Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS'' march and rally, July 22, 2012, or to sign on, visit aidshealth.org.