Creating Connections in Cape Town
South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, hobbling with his foot in a boot, arrived this morning in Cape Town after flying overnight from a lung health congress in Barcelona.
Heading directly to the huge convention center here that this week was hosting the first-ever HIV R4P conference, a gathering of researchers and activists working on all HIV prevention efforts, Motsoaledi wasted no time in making connections. “We have the highest levels of HIV and tuberculosis co-infection in South Africa and indeed in Southern Africa,” he said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”
While South Africa, and the world beyond, continues to make progress against HIV, Motsoaledi says no single intervention will take care of it all. As a former political activist in poverty-stricken Limpopo during South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime, the minister showed some familiarity with creating systemic change over time, by taking small steps and enduring great hardship and suffering.
Some 1,300 specialists from around the world came to Cape Town in order to present results and draw a picture of the current situation in the global response to HIV. Some grumbled that there wasn’t enough of a chance to really mix—and yes, perhaps the schedule could’ve been friendlier in this regard—while others thought there might have been too much mixing, creating a diluted environment.
Winding up this year’s HIV R4P, the group on stage urged those in the Cape Town audience to think about the bigger picture. Given that, US Global AIDS Chief Medical Officer Douglas Schaffer’s reference to the recent US$200 million initiative to bring antiretrovirals to 300,000 children in African countries who are living with HIV is a welcome one.
“We all know that the best way to break the back of any infectious disease epidemic is through a vaccine,” says Motsoaledi. And a combination of approaches to protect against HIV will need to reach different kinds of people and populations, he added. Specialists will have to work together, which is what the first HIV R4P, sometimes successfully, establishes as a goal. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sorting through more of the congress and these themes in the pages of IAVI Report and VAX. Stay tuned. – Michael Dumiak