By Julie Turkewitz
From Housing Works
AIDS activists at IAC 2012.
The International AIDS Conference, the world’s largest meeting of people working to stop the spread of HIV, fails miserably at addressing the challenges faced by groups most impacted by the virus, including men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, sex workers, and drug users.
That is the disturbing bottom line of a report released Thursday by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV.
The audit, which focused on program content at the 2010 Vienna conference, shows that the percentage of all sessions focused exclusively on these groups was a mere 2.6 percent for men who have sex with men; 1.1 percent for transgender people; 3 percent for sex workers; and 4.5 percent for people who use drugs.
Research indicates that in nearly every country these four groups are at higher risk for HIV infection than the general population. For years, however, activist groups, including the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, have said that these populations are grossly underrepresented at the biennial convention.
The release of the report only intensifies concern that marginalized populations will be left out of the conversation at the 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. Strict U.S. visa policies on entry for sex workers and drug users have AIDS activists worried that many individuals will be shut out, further limiting the conference’s diversity.
"Ostensibly, the IAC offers chances for local health care providers to learn ways to improve their services, provides channels for advocates to engage in dialogue with powerful decision-makers, and creates opportunities for community members to shape global funding and research agendas," said Dr. Mohan Sundararaj, policy associate at MSMGF, in the announcement of the study’s release. "This really is a phenomenal platform, but how useful can it be when those who need it most are locked out?"