Montréal was honoured to host the 24th International AIDS conference. The events — organized by the International AIDS society — took place from July 29 to August 2 at Montréal’s convention centre, the Palais des congrès de Montréal, drawing approximately 8,000 people to the event (and another 1000 people attending virtually). In attendance were scientists, clinicians, community leaders, advocates, people with lived experience of HIV, health providers, decision-makers, and other stakeholders from around the world
The main objectives: advance HIV research, shift evidence into action, and accelerate progress toward the shared goal of ending HIV and AIDS as a public health concern by 2030.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an estimated 79 million people have become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
After four decades, the virus still has no vaccine or cure. The good news is that 28 million of the 38 million people living with HIV today are on life-saving antiretroviral therapy that keeps them well by reducing the amount of virus in their bodies and preventing transmission. The less good news is that 10 million people are not accessing medication. This — among other reasons — is precisely why a conference of this nature is so important: because HIV/AIDS is not over.
AIDS 2022 in Montréal
The conference featured many elements, such as a daily plenary session, an exposition hall, and a global village (which was open to the public). In many ways the meeting is unique because of who is in attendance: not just scientists and policy makers, but also grassroots activists, artists, and local stakeholders. Local pride organizers Fierté Montréal took part by helping to curate the programming and scheduling events in collaboration with the International AIDS Society — a perfect example of a partnership between local actors and a visiting association.
The event was also an opportunity to exchange strategies around other pressing pandemics, such as covid and monkey pox. For several months, local community organizations have already been on the ground to raise awareness and vaccinate populations at risk and affected by monkey pox. With mobilization already underway, this allowed an opportunity for knowledge and program sharing.
At the conference, local co-chair Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy said that the biggest breakthrough presented was research showing that a single injection of a long-lasting antiretroviral medication can prevent people from acquiring an HIV infection for two months. This would replace daily prevention pills. And could lead to saving millions of lives.
The legacy of such an event
Naturally an event of this magnitude has rippling effects. The connections made and the knowledge exchanged will impact international health-based interventions, and activists used this conference as a lever to carry their message and re-engage the discussion on AIDS. But there was also local impact. The conference has led to a recommitment by local actors to work together to solidify existing bases of projects and programs.
We’ve already witnessed three major outcomes:
- Canadian Government announced $17.9 million to increase access to HIV testing in remote communities and among hard-to-reach populations. [details]
- A commitment to consultations on modernizing the criminal justice system’s response to HIV non-disclosure (goal: eradicating stigma) [details]
- Canadian Government announced a reinvestment of $15 million with UNAIDS to ending AIDS worldwide [details]
Also worth noting is that the positive spin-offs of AIDS 2022 will be measured through a study by #MEET4IMPACT, a local organization that aims to generate and optimize social value of meetings. More details to follow.
Big social impact, smaller ecological impact
While the AIDS Conference had a great deal of social and political impact, the event was eco-responsible, classified at level 2 by the BNQ certification standards, which defines responsible event management and establishes technical rules based on 16 principles of the Sustainable Development Act of Québec. Furthermore, the exhibitors at the venue needed to follow a sustainability checklist that supports the United Nations Global Compact's Ten Principles.
And it was hosted at the Palais des congrès of Montréal, a location with a stringent eco-responsibility policy. The building itself is carbon neutral and offers event professionals a variety of sustainability-forward options to mitigate the environmental impacts of meetings.
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