AVAC Report and Durban: A perfect pair

August 4, 2016

Happy August! Every International AIDS Conference leaves a paper trail. If you were in Durban for the meeting that ended nearly two weeks ago, you’re probably still finding pamphlets, stickers and business cards in the corners of your luggage. And if you stayed home, you’re probably wondering how to wade through the piles of publications—maybe not paper, but plenty of links to PDF documents. Here at AVAC, we’d like to help—with a quick tour of AVAC Report 2016: Big Data, Real People—and a look at the Durban sessions that related to its core messages.

Data measure progress to targets. But what’s counted matters. In Big Data, Real People, AVAC argues that for too long, prevention targets have counted things that weren’t linked to impact. HIV testing, which is not in and of itself protective against HIV, is one example. “People reached” with billboards or other messages is another. And we’d add referrals for services—with no accounting for whether those referrals led to linkages. For new cases of HIV to begin to go down, the targets need to be sharper, and the investment in prevention needs to increase to match. In Durban, a panel on targets helped frame what this could or should look like.

The “youth bulge” was also a recurring theme throughout the conference. There are far more young people alive today than there were at the start of the epidemic—especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that even if current rates of new cases of HIV don’t go up, the absolute numbers of young people diagnosed with HIV every year will increase. That we haven’t seen an enormous jump so far says that some things may be working—but more is definitely needed. AVAC Report takes a close look at what needs to happen to ensure that the surge of activity focused on adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa leads to impact. The Report includes graphics on the “youth bulge”, the data gaps in young women that must be filled, and the cycle of transmission in South Africa. To see how these came up at the conference, check out AVAC’s Micheal Ighodaro’s remarkable plenary, and this session on the cycle of transmission that links young women and older men in South Africa.

Then there’s the matter of ending AIDS. Is it possible? Is it even the right thing to be talking about given that funding for global AIDS actually declined in 2015? These questions came up throughout the conference and are also tackled in the Report. For AVAC’s part, there are some critical steps that need to be taken for this to be a viable goal: closing the funding gap, adopting a vastly improved approach to collecting and acting on prevention data, and keeping a committed focus on research for an AIDS vaccine and other long-term solutions.

We hope you’ll visit the AVAC Report 2016 page, where you can find downloadable graphics and PDFs of our Executive Summary and the full Report. We’ll be mailing out hard copies in the coming month. If you’d like one, or many, please let us know!