The pre-conference is intense and there a many concurrent sessions going on and lots of choice of different topics within the HIV field. Before attending delegates must register online for a maximum of 3 areas. This strikes me as strange as they are all happening at once and it is impossible to be in 3 places at the same time. They fill to capacity quickly and I found that the most 'scientific' ones had already been filled, but I found one which I am very happy to attend as it is what we all want and will update me on the latest info. Namely 'Towards an HIV cure'.
So, the first session of 'Towards an HIV cure' began at 9am and I got in easily as I had preregistered. Rolande was not so organised and it took some time for her to appear. I have learned that she knows how to get herself into places and to get things done. As we were to do for most sessions, we sat on the second row. This session was introduced by the co-founder of the HIV and Nobel laureate Francois Barre-Sinoussi herself! She defined HIV cure and said the main priority in science these days is getting papers published but this shouldn't be the case. She is right.
First up was Asier Saez-Cirion talking about the hurdles to an HIV cure.
There were lots of similar looking eatery stalls scattered outside around the venue. What a great place! Rolande and I went to one of them and found a table where we could acquaint ourselves with whoever wanted to join us. It was suddenly very windy. I have a large chicken pasta salad which I really enjoy and a bottle of water I had brought with me. Again not expensive, at R35 my food cost less than £2. Prakash found and joined us and started talking about his work. A cure for HIV involving mercury? I tell people about The Rutger Hauer Starfish Association the AIDS non-profit which has a firm grasp on my heartstrings and I show them my now very tatty leaflet which I got from a fundraiser back in 2012.
The afternoon session begins at 2pm and takes place in the same room (5). There were 3 introductory speakers, firstly Jack Whitesciver then the President of the National AIDS Society Dr Chris Beyrer who tells us there are alot of femail speakers at this conference and they had over 7000 abstracts submitted! Then Barre-Sinoussi speaks and tells us that the 1st AIDS Symposium was in Vienna in 2010. Incidently this is the second time this conference has taken place here in Durban, the first time as 16 years ago in 2000. Next Sharon Lewin introduces the first speaker, none other than Dr Anthony Fauci of NIH who talks about the challenges persistant in HIV research. His lab recently used transfer of monoclonal antibodies on an exploratory study of 30 people with chronic HIV infection. They all rebounded no matter what.
Next up was a South African speaker Gethwana Mahlase talking about movng towards an AIDS cure involving community. She has her own NGO and said that the introduction of ARV's means taking 1 pill a day and alot of people forget. She spoke of there being 10 funerals a week in her community. The way forward is more research, effective drugs, community work and meaningful partnerships.
The next session started at 3pm and Dianne Rauch introduced a british speaker Andrew Phillips from UCL who spoke about identifying the key drivers of the impact of HIV cure intervention in sub-saharan Africa.
After a coffee break a special session begins at 4.30pm. This is about paediatric HIV and there are several speakers. I find this a very emotional session and feel its my favourite one so far. Is it because its about kids? Oh so young. Two speakers introduced by Deborah Persaud. The first is Deena Gibbons from Kings College London talking about the relevance of paediatric immunology to HIV persistance.
A nice french lady spoke to me whilst I was admiring her poster and told me she was speaking at 2 sessions this week. She spent ages telling me about her poster/research. Alas I wish I had taken a photo of it and can't think now why I didn't.
There was a wide variety of food available which waiters brought around for us. I was still full from lunch but it looked so good I eat anyway. There was a variety of alcohol available which my colleagues enjoyed and I had one can of Castle beer which I made last all evening.Sometimes not being aable to tolerate booze is a bummer! This was a lively fun session, being able to mingle, meet and chat to likeminded people and exchange business cards and stories etc. Rolande certainly took advantage of everything on offer and it was good to see her enjoying herself. I kept wandering around to look at posters, meet new people and stretch my legs. Plenty of great people stopped off at our table to say hello. I wish I could recall the name of the jolly kenyan guy we chatted to. Sorry dude.
|L to R:Kenyan delegate, Rolande, me and Prakash|