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AIDS 2012
AIDS2012

By David Ernesto Munar,

CEO/President of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago

With a dizzying array of talks, sessions and activities for 24,000 participants, the 19th International AIDS Conference offered participants new information, analyses and research findings to fortify effective global and domestic responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Keeping up with it all was downright impossible (though both fun and inspiring to attempt.)

Here are my “ah-ha” moments gleaned from what I could attend of the nearly 500 concurrent sessions and additional cultural activities during the conference.

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HIV criminalization has emerged as a major issue of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

Scott Schoettes, an attorney and HIV project director for Lambda Legal, was kind enough to answer some questions about HIV criminalization for the Inside Story blog.

Inside Story: In theory, these laws must have been originally created to prevent the spread of HIV, right? Why do the HIV criminalization laws fail at that?

Scott Schoettes: Many of these laws were actually enacted in the 1990s in response to a Ryan White Act mandate requiring that the state receiving funding have a means of prosecuting the intentional transmission of HIV, and many states did not recognize that their generally applicable criminal laws fulfilled that mandate.

Unfortunately, most of the HIV-specific laws that were written in response to this mandate prohibited many other types of conduct that did not require an intent to transmit -- or any intent to harm.  And because, under many of these laws, a person who engages in low-risk or even no-risk behavior and does not transmit (or even expose) another person to HIV is subject to the same penalties as someone who intentionally and actually transmits HIV, the punishment often is out of all proportion to the crime.

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Tens of thousands of people descended upon Washington, D.C. for the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) during the week of July 22-27.

They represented all races, gender identities, continents and walks of life. They were scientists, researchers, diplomats, activists, journalists – and people living with HIV/AIDS. It was truly an incredible global gathering focused on “turning the tide” of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) was everywhere at the conference. Thanks largely to scholarships and sponsorship, about a dozen staff attended and were active on various fronts, including harm reduction/social justice, rectal microbicide and lube access advocacy, policy leadership, and female condom use – just to name a few.

Special thanks go to the Levi Strauss Foundation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), AIDS United, MAC AIDS Fund, and other foundation and individual donors for generously supporting AFC’s involvement in the conference.  Extended coverage of the conference is posted at www.aidschicago.org/aids2012.

Here’s a recap of AFC’s presence at the AIDS 2012 conference:

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Here are some photos from Tuesday's We Can End AIDS march.            AFC photos-Gregory Trotter

Harlan Smith, of Atlanta, Ga., and Tony Zheng, of China, make signs before the mobilization begins.

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The idea of “turning the tide” against the AIDS epidemic will prove to be no more than a slogan if more is not done to address the growing number of gay/bisexual men infected with HIV worldwide, experts said today.

Speaking at an afternoon press conference today, a panel of experts presented new research – recently published in a series in the medical journal, The Lancet – that confronted the reality of HIV prevalence among MSM (men who have sex with me).  The series concluded that, in addition to medical and scientific advances, more must be done to eradicate the cultural and societal impediments of homophobia and discrimination. Until that happens, ending the AIDS epidemic is unlikely, said Chris Beyrer (at right), a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve identified is the global epidemic of HIV among MSM is a consistent pattern of expanding prevalence, whereas other populations have leveled off,” said Beyrer, a lead writer on The Lancet series.

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By David Ernesto Munar

Living with HIV is sometimes described as a rollercoaster but for me it’s more like a marathon or several of them.

Running has been my constant companion, even before my HIV diagnosis in 1994.  Back then, my typical run was shorter – my impatience greater.  My exercise routines mimicked the circumstances of my life.  Desperate to seize every fleeting moment, I favored short sprints over long, meandering runs.  My attention raced to make the most of a young, abbreviated life.

Such pessimism was justified.  An estimated 40,000 people died of AIDS in the U.S. the year I was diagnosed – 50,000 the following year.  I was 25 years old.

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The Human Rights/Harm Reduction branch of the mobilization waits before moving toward the White House. AFC Photos-Gregory Trotter

The last time Laura Thomas was arrested in front of the White House, on Dec. 1, 1989, she was 23 years old. She lied down in the cold street with other ACT UP activists, just trying to be seen.

In total, she’s been arrested for civil disobedience 13 times – but not since 1992. As she ate breakfast this morning, she geared up mentally for another trip to the clink.

“It’s always a little scary, but it’s worth it,” said Thomas, 45, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in San Francisco and a steering committee member for the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance. “We’re not scrambling for attention anymore, but we are still demanding more action.”

Such was the context as thousands took to the streets today for the We Can End AIDS mobilization, the keynote activism event for the International AIDS Conference, a march of thousands through the streets ending in a rally in front of the White House. The four-hour protest culminated in an act of civil disobedience resulting in 12 people, including Thomas, being hauled off in police vans.

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Mayor Vincent Gray faced a tough crowd today as he attempted to welcome visitors to Washington D.C.

When he took to the stage for the opening ceremony of the Global Village – a free networking area that’s integral to the activist spirit of the conference -- a group of 20 or so protestors marched in front with signs demanding a comprehensive AIDS plan for the nation’s Capital.

Several times, he tried to begin with different approaches: getting chummy with his antagonists by saying that he too was once an activist, growing stern with them, reasoning with them and, finally, bargaining for a later conversation. Nothing seemed to work for Mayor Gray.

“Give us the plan! Give us the plan! Give us the plan!” the protestors chanted.

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By David Ernesto Munar

Like tweens at a Justin Bieber concert, scientists wildly cheered new experimental research findings earlier this month in the field of theoretical physics.  The hoopla resulted from observations made possible by the Large Hadron Collider — the biggest particle accelerator ever built — of the existence of a long sought subatomic particle known as the Higgs Boson.

Here’s a brief summary, if you missed it: Scientists hope the Higgs Boson will help explain the essential characteristics of all matter and energy in the universe.  Scientists have long sought a single unifying model to explain why astronomical observations suggest a mystery energy source is rapidly expanding the universe.  Other measurements suggest the universe comprises heavy matter that nonetheless cannot be observed.  The mysterious forces (known as dark matter and dark energy) amount to 96% of known mass-energy in the universe.

AIDS researchers and activists from around the world are on the hunt for their own Higgs Boson. In fact, 25,000 participants from all corners of the globe assemble in Washington, D.C. this week for the 19th International AIDS Conference to help determine how to turn the tide against one of human history’s worst epidemics.

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Rev. Charles Straight, pastor of the Faith United Methodist Church in Dolton, Ill., delivers the opening convocation at AIDS 2012.

The voice thundered out from the bespectacled pastor to the silent, rapt audience.

“This is our prayer and this is our common desire for AIDS 2012 – that we be united all the world over as never before to truly turn the tide against the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Rev. Charles Straight, board member for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, concluding his convocation.

“Let it be so.  Let us make it so," he said. "And all those who wish to it to be so, let me hear you say: ‘Amen.’ ”

“Amen,” shouted back thousands of people gathered from all over the world.

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Starting July 21, The 19th International AIDS Conference will be hosted in the United States for the first time since 1987. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago will be participating in a number of events throughout the conference. Click here to view a schedule of our activities or download it here .

Follow along all week through our Twitter feed (@aidschicago) as we tweet about what's happening. More extensive updates will be posted on this page as well as our Inside Story blog.

For more information on the conference, please visit www.aids2012.org.

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