Friday, 26 August 2016

International AIDS Conference 2016: Summary

Thank you for your interest in reading about this conference. I hope you enjoyed the flavour of this conference which I hope I have successfully managed to give you, even if you only had time to read this summary. I have been brief about each of the session I attended. You can see the whole presentation and slides from these sessions at the following link as they are updated. There were many presentations so of course you can look at any which pique your interest. 

AIDSConference2016/presentations, slides etc

The 'Solidaritree' in the Global Village. I hung a ribbon on it with the web address for The Rutger Hauer Starfish Association.

I really learned alot about the global HIV landscape and the science involved and how these scientists work. One really frustrating and sad thing is that no matter what, the outcome in most studies was the same. That is, that most patients rebound. Much can be learned from these studies and dedicated scientists keep on going as they always have. I had never given it any thought before but I learned that the virus is found in tissues too, not just bodily fluids. Stands to reason. I learned that HIV can be detected for up to 12 hours post mortem. Also I now know that most drugs to treat HIV, come from India. I am really happy to also know that there are researchers out there looking at the Berlin Patient Timothy Brown, and looking for a functional cure based upon his case and treatment. Crossing all fingers for that.
The highlights for me were Mondays plenary session celebrating Nelson Mandela's legacy, with a whole diverse range of speakers including Charlize Theron and Desmond Tutu. Also Wednesdays special session with Bill Gates talking about how to accelerate the decline of AIDS in sub-saharan Africa really was special. As I have heard before at this conference, and thus learned, 2 million people are infected every year. It was also good to hear about how exposure affects infants and children and the impact of HIV on women and children. Starfish would be interested in that too. Lastly, it was interesting and enlightening to hear about reporting the news in the media from the journalists point of view. Here is a great article in The Guardian:

Throughout the conference there was talk of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030. Whilst I agree that this would be wonderful, I think that it isn't that realistic, perhaps abit too ambitious. I think this is a dream rather than a goal but it is good to have dreams right? Something else discussed throughout was 90-90-90. That is, 90% of people diagnosed with HIV will be treated, and of those 90% treated, 90% will have a fully supressed viral load by 2020. I am optimistic about thids but is it also ambitious? What do you think?
It was great to meet such a diverse group of people, like minded researchers and activists, HIV positive and transgender people. Many kinds of people who have been touched by or care about the HIV situation on a global scale. Thank you to everyone involved for making this event possible. Thanks to Rolande of AIDSfreeAfrica for spending the week with me and to volunteer Katie from Botswana for being a huge help.  I'm so glad I made it, thank you Durban.

I hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship for me with the International AIDS Conference and I especially look forward to the next one in 2018 as it is in my favourite city of Amsterdam.

Can I hope to see you there?  I look forward to this immensely and it will be exciting to be among dutch researchers.

Thank you all so much for reading. Love Sarah xxx P.S Please be sure to check back. I will update as I see the sessions I went to and other special ones I didn't get to attend.

Monday, 22 August 2016

International AIDS Conference 2016: Friday 22nd July

Day 5. The final day already. We are up early on our laptops. Rolande goes ahead of me for breakfast. I finish off my mango juice, shower, dress and pack. Still have bad tummy pains. I skip breakfast but go to reception and ask to print off flight details which I do. I hang around to see if any other delegates are going to the ICC today. Only one very nice man from the US. He phones a cab and turns out he works for a pharmaceutical company and offers me lots of advice including that I should visit the travel clinic in the conference centre. I wasn't aware there was one, but why wouldn't there be?  I find that the travel doctor is downstairs but only the nurse is there now. She gives me some prebiotics, some Imodium and something to hydrate me. I get a cup of hot water from the coffee shop for this and pay R5. I only have one session this morning before I need to jump on the coach to the airport. As I make my way to room 11 for the 11am-12.30pm session, I bump into my US cab companion and tell him I've seen the travel nurse. He sits down and get out his box of drugs and gives me some more imodium. I am thankful and bless him what a nice man. I sit at the back in room 11 because like many others I have my suitcase with me today. This session is called 'The Impact of HIV on Women, Adolescents and girls.'
 The first speaker here was Catherine Hankins from the Amsterdam Institute for Global health and development. 
She gives an overview of the disproportionate HIV impact on women and girls. 51% of all people living with HIV are women. Pregnant women and transgenders have the most HIV and women are more likely to go for an HIV test. There is a new infection every minute.

The next speaker was S. Sabangu from the Presidency Department of Women, South Africa. She spoke of the mechanisms needed for 14-25 year old girls to become empowered. They need skills and access to resources. Poverty also presents challenges.

The next speaker was Jessica Horn of the African Women's Development Fund, Ghana. HIV is gendered. I.E. There is patriachal power within Africa. HIV is just one problem women have to deal with. A funding crisis is also a problem for  womens right issues. Africa is still a young continent where most of the population is under 18 years old. It also has a rise in religious fundamentalism so there is a need to think realistically.
The last speaker was L Pakkala from UNICEF, Kenya.  
She spoke about the need for leadership.
During this event I got a text from Rolande letting me know she wants to meet up to say goodbye. I am glad because I do too. She walks me to the airport shuttle and we say our goodbyes and hug. Happy yet sad moments. Hopefully we will meet up again at the next AIDS conference if not before. A nice coach ride to the airport where Turkish Airlines get me home via Istanbul. Everything goes smoothly and I have 2 very similar breakfasts courtesy of TA. I arrive home in Manchester at 9.30am, so approx 10 minutes early. I will be seeing my local airport again in a matter of hours as I make my way to Dublin.
Thank you Durban for being a great host and thank you to all the speakers I had the privilege of listening to and thanks to all the wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with. I have now met plenty of transgenders and HIV positive people whereas before coming here I hadn't even though I live in Manchester, UK. It was so amazing to be amongst like-minded people and to be surrounded by HIV scientists. I really hope to attend the next International AIDS Conference which takes place in July 2018, Amsterdam, my favourite foreign city. I also hope you enjoyed seeing Durban and this conference through my lens. Thank you Sarah xxx

International AIDS Conference 2016: Thursday 21st July

Day 4. Up at 6.45am and delighted that internet is back on. I shower and have a glass of fruit juice. Tum has kept me up half of the night and I throw up the juice. I decide not to have any breakfast but tentatively have some toast. Thankfully it stays down. It is yet another beautiful sunny day. Rolande and I take an easy walk down the road to get a taxi to the ICC for R5 each.  As she chats to me I pay more attention this time lol. When we get there I am dying of thirst and have 3 cups from the water cooler. Rolande goes off to meet some people and says we will get together at 5pm. Fine.

My first session of the day was in room 5 at 1-2pm for an event called 'HIV exposure: How does it affect children?'

 The first speaker was Jean Liedner from the US. She studied pregnant women who were both affected and unaffected by HIV. Those affected by HIV tended to have more depression and come from low socio-economic backgrounds. There were no significant developmental differences.

The second speaker was Michael Boivin from Michigan State University talking about 'Neurodevelopment of ugandan and malawian promise HIV unexposed uninfected children'.

 The next speaker was Rachael Vreeman of Indiana University, US.

Malnutritional leads to increased mortality and morbidity. This was found to be 45 months in 14k children.


The next speaker from central Kenya was Njambi Njuguna

He spoke about 'Drivers, Barriers and consequences of HIV disclosure to HIV infected children aged 9-14 years old. 
 Next up was Edith Majona from the London School of Tropical Medicine. 

There are also complications from Lymes disease and cardiac disease as well as left heart abnormalities.

The Final speaker was Thanyawee Puthanakit from Thailand.

A Q & A followed.

The next event I went to at 2.30-5pm was called: 'Responsible reporting vs sensationalising HIV & AIDS in the media' This was an advanced level event in room 9. I had only been sat down for a moment when I realised this was the wrong event. This was an interactive event involving moving around discussing posters. I left and found that there had been a room change so I headed to room 13. This of course means that myself and others missed the start of this event.

First up was Kay Marshall taking about the complicated
science of HIV.

 She said that journalists do get it wrong because they don't know the subject and so it can lead to sensationalism. She also said that scientists shouldn't just give the press release to the journalists, they should meet up and explain it. Also let other scientists read it too so as to decrease any bias. Don't forget non-scientists as well. Remember to thank reporters when they get it right. NGO's usually waste time on PR using celebrities. 
Each presentation here would finish with a question for the audience which generates a discussion. A great idea for this subject I think. Kays question was 'How can researchers, advocates and the media work together to ensure accurate scientific reporting?'


The next speaker was Ana P. Santos who talked about HIV Phillipines-State of emergency.                                             
This is a very catholic country where nobody talks about sex. There are 33000 infections and 505 related deaths in a day since gaining a new president. Also drug pushers and injectors too. So HIV stories in the media had to be put on hold. How to tell stories of the vunerable whilst protecting their identity's. Write that you are censored and not allowed to write the truth. In other words, use Catholism against them.

 The last speaker Michael Friedman was a documentary maker in the Soviet Union and he spoke about: Modern Technology and how to make it work. This was a longer talk but it held my interest throughout. He showed alot of photos with powerful tales accompanying them. He said that reporting had never been better because everything is now connected.

Taken in January 2015. A single mum whose husband had died.
 This 42 year old woman died 4 months after this photo was taken, her kids died abit later.

 This image was sold to Lockheed Martin who added a caption and some smoke. At the end his question was 'how to better use technology to sell stories?' As a science communicator, I found this interesting.
 Afterwards I go to the Global Village. Having felt hungry for some time I head to the eating area and have a can of grape Fanta and a nice cheese and tomato sandwich which I get from the healthy eating stall. It does the trick. I walk back outside to meet Rolande. We get the shuttle bus to our lodge and I find myself sat between two lovely ugandan women. We have a nice chat for the whole ride. I tell them my workplace does visit Uganda once a year to help the people there out. I spend most of the evening on my pc as the internet is so slow. Then decide to have an early night. My last full day at the conference already.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

International AIDS Conference 2016: Wednesday 20th July

Day 3. I am up at around 7.20am and notice I have a sizeable bite on my right wrist. Haven't noticed any fauna in our room so I wonder where it came from? I check myself in the shower but have no other bites. I have my yoghurt and a glass of orange juice. On my Mac I see that yesterdays amazing update from The Rutger Hauer Starfish Association. It is about an 11 year old AIDS activist who took the stage at the AIDS conference here in Durban 16 years ago. This update is a letter to him, powerful stuff. It makes my heart smile and puts a wide one on my face too. My breakfast is later, 8.50am leaving Rolande on my laptop. I enjoy breakfast and when Rolande arrives for hers she tells me the internet has crashed. Also she isn't going to go to the conference this morning as she wants to go sight seeing with Prakash. Back in our room I try to get internet working but can't. Once ready to leave for the ICC, I get  my R5 taxi fare ready in my hand and set off. It is stiffling hot but this makes me happy as its what I want from South Africa. I stroll along familiar territory but as I am alone I get lost! It has to be said my sense of direction...well I don't really have one. This being a different culture, things dont happen in the same way as they do in the UK. Without going into detail, I miss the first morning session of the conference and get a police ride to the venue. Feel abit silly but such is life. Arriving there at 11.45am I go to the Global Village and buy some beaded bracelets for family members and a red ribbon with South African flag badge for myself. All the handmade beaded jewelry etc is unique and absolutely gorgeous.
So my first session today is a special 1 hour event at 1-2pm in room1.

This was chaired by Dr Abdool-Karim and entitled 'Accelerating decline of HIV burden in sub-saharan Africa' by none other than Bill Gates.

He was very interesting to listen to and told us about a visit he paid to women in a clinic in Durban city centre yesterday. Respect Mr Gates. He told us that last year there were 2 million new infections and also again this year. A large number and sadly not the first time I've heard it this week.
I found myself sat next to a nice american chap who knows and loves the UK. He studied at Kings College London years ago. It was a good chat.    

I have lunch in a quieter area but still sit outside enjoying a cappuchino and a chicken and mayo sandwich. My tum had been rather sore during that last session. It is now after 3pm and I have sometime before the next session which begins at 4.30-6pm in room 6. I hang around outside this room and Rolande catches up with me. We go and sit on the second row as usual.  This session is called: Development and pricing of HIV medications and diagnostics chaired by Nathan Ford fron WHO, Switzerland.

The first speaker was SharonAnn Lynch from Doctors Without Borders, US. She spoke of 20 years worth of work and how these days 1st line treatment, a 3 combo, treatment costs $100. Treatment costs $44per person per year. Also there is failure in terms of Intellectual Property.

The second speaker was Anil Soni from Mylan in the US. He spoke about the industry perspective regarding HIV drugs and told us that most generic drugs come from India.

The third speaker was Dr Andrij Klepikov from the
Alliance for Public Health in the Ukraine.

He told us that only a startling 18% of HIV patients are on ARV's in the Ukraine.

The next speaker was a quick replacement who kindly volunteered to speak and had no slides. Clare Waterhouse from MSF, South Africa. She told us that the Department of health in South Africa is very active medicine/drug production. There are however issues with patent laws.

The final speaker was Nadila Pandor a south african MP. She said that $10 is equivalent to alot of rands and the need to speak in south african currency. Action must come from within South Africa.

Preparations are made to feed us at 6.30pm so we hang around and wait, having a drink in the meantime. A black coffee and a grape Fanta for me. Food is good e.g. salad bowls, burgers in buns, cheese wraps, pink cheesecake. A lovely lady turns up who happens to be an old friend Rolande knows from Cameroon. Half way through her PhD she says loves Cameroon and something she says sticks with me. She says ''You should love your country like you love your mother, wether rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, big or small.'' We get the shuttle straight back to our lodge afterwards. I go to reception with my laptop trying to get connected to the internet. I go to bed at 10.30pm with a really bad tum and no internet, so not happy.

International AIDS Conference 2016: Tuesday 19th July

Day 2. Out of bed at 6.45am again. Shower and hair wash for me. Rolande borrows my Mac again and our first conference event today is at 11am. There is alot going on today and alot to potentially see but as I can't be 2 places at once I need to make a choice. I decide to go with the talks where I can learn alot of HIV science. Rolande is happy to go with whatever I decide. We find ourselves in room 11 for an event entitled PrEP: New drugs, new questions where I learn that according to the World Health Organisation, there are 24000 new child HIV infections per year.

The first speaker was Dr E. Brocco-Cofano from the University of Pittsburgh talking about a study on 6 month old macaques looking at the study of the drug Maraviroc.

The second speaker was Dr Roy Gulich from the University of Rochester, US,  also speaking about a study involving Maraviroc. This time on a cohort of US women.

The next speaker was Dr Ian McGowan from the University of Pittsburg talking about ART persistence.

 Next up was Dr Robert Grant of The Gladstone Institute. He gave a Systematic Review of drug resistance.

The final speaker of this session at Noon was Dr Liz Brown from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre talking about Vaginal rings with dapivirine.

The next session I attended in Session room 7 was from 1pm until 2pm. There were also 5 speakers at this 1 hour event so it was a quick paced session. This event was called: 'HIV drug resistance-is it time to worry?'

First speaker was Dr Diego Martin-Cecchini from University of Argentinatalking about HIV prevalence in pregnant women in Buenos Aires. An interesting comparison of 2 time periods 2008-2011 and 2014-2015.

 Speaker number 2 was Steven Hong from Tufts Medical Centre in the US. He spoke of a WHO public health strategy to deal with drug resistance. This study took place in Namibia.

 Next up at 1.30pm was Birgit Schramm from Medicins Sans Frontieres, Paris. She spoke about drug resistance and virological failure.

The next speaker was Jennifer Thompson from University College London. She spoke of the effectiveness of PI resistance mutations on viral load. I'm not sure what PI resistance mutations are and don't glean anything about it from the context here. Something to google later.

The final speaker of this session was Santiago Moreno, University Hospital, Spain. His talk was about DTG plus RPV in suppressed heavily pretreated HIV patients. 

Next I went to a special 1 hour session in room 1 which began at 2.30pm and was co-chaired by the one and only Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Abdool-Karim. This session was entitled 'New evidence: Why do young women in Africa have huge rates of HIV infection?'

 The first speaker was Dr Abdool-Karim talking about why there is more HIV amongst women than men.


The next speaker was Dr Tuli De Oliveria. 'Who is infecting who?' His talk was abit longer than the rest of the ones we've heard today and he discussed the prevalence of HIV in various age groups and age differences amongst partners.

The next talk was given by 2 speakers from the University of Washington. Dr Jo-Ann Passmore and Dr Brent Williams talking about the role of vaginal microbiotica in genital inflammation.

Another great pairing of speakers next who gave an interesting and related talk about the effects of Tenofovir on Lactobacillus or Gardnerella. It seems that an increase in the population of Lactobacillus could decrease infection. Dr Adam Burgener from Canada's University of Manitoba and Dr Nichole Klatt from University of Washington. 

Lastly Dr Salim Karim from the Centre of AIDS Research in South Africa Spoke about the implications of the new evidence.

Men in their thirties with a high viral load are passing the HIV onto very young women. 

The next session and the final one for me takes place in room 12 and takes place from 4.30pm-6pm.
It is entitled 'Synergystic epidemics: New Drugs, new challenges' and is hosted by Gerry Friedland and Jurgen Rockstroh. There are 5 presentations.

First on the podium this afternoon was Francois Venter from the Wits Reproductive health and HIV Institute, South Africa,  talking about 'Innovations in HIV treatment and what the future holds'.

 The second speaker was Jurgen Rockstroh from University Hospital, Bonn, Germany. He spoke about 'Innovations in HCV treatments. What the Future Holds'.

The third speaker was Chandraseharan Padmapryadarsini from the Indian Council of Medical Research. She talked about 'Innovations in TB Research: What the Future Holds'.
She said that HIV and TB are partners in crime and that HIV goes some way to curbing TB. Tuberculosis is still everywhere even though there are cheap and effective drugs on the market.

The 4th speaker is Paul Stoffels from Johnson and Johnson. He talks about the development of new HIV drugs and informed us that there are 2 million infections per year!

The final Speaker James Packard-Lane had no slides but told us about DC linkage and the high prices which come with it. I still have no idea what DC linkages are. Another for google.
I really really enjoyed this session it was so interesting and accessible to everyone, not just scientists. Good science communicators here I think. So I think it had a great Q&A to finish off with as well.
A quick look around the Global Village befoe going back to our lodge is a nice way to stretch the legs and end the day. We see the 'Solidaritree' again and now it is in full bloom. I am assured the ribbon I left will still be on there. I am pleased to buy myself a beaded red ribbon badge for a mere R10, i.e. 50p. We get our shuttle bus to drop us off at our local supermarket. I fancy something sweet and buy a museli yoghurt, Twix and a bottle of mango juice too. Also a packet of cheese and onion crisps. Iam astounded at how cheap everything is. The juice was £1 but everything else I bought was 25p. We walked to our lodge and it is a nice warm sunny evening, no wind. Once settled I drink the juice and eat the crisps which were very tasty, enjoyed them alot and wish I'd bought more packets. After watching some news this is a relatively early night, lights out at 9.30pm.

I am grateful for any feedback and comments. Thanks for reading and don't be a stranger xxx