AIDS 2014 in Melbourne has ended with calls for the global response to HIV and AIDS to keep moving forward, towards the next International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa in two years.

Addressing a packed auditorium at the conference’s closing session, local co-chair and HIV researcher Professor Sharon Lewin said she was proud of everything that had been achieved during the week, even in the wake of the deaths of those on board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.

“I think this week has demonstrated what makes the HIV movement so inspiring — we’ve faced and overcome adversity since the very early days of the epidemic, and this week was no exception,” she said.

Lewin also called on all delegates at the conference to sign the Melbourne Declaration against discrimination and the criminalisation of those living with and at risk of HIV.

Bob Geldof slammed governments in some of the world’s biggest nations for their relatively low financial contributions to the global fight against HIV and AIDS, while praising Germany, the UK and the US for their contributions.

“The rest of the world must come to the party,” he said, criticising Russia, Saudi Arabia and China specifically.

Outgoing International AIDS Society (IAS) president Françoise Barré-Sinoussi affirmed the importance of human rights and social justice in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“There will be no end of AIDS without ensuring respect and dignity of all people, equity in access to health services and social justice,” she said.

“I am very glad that the past week clearly reaffirmed that our engagement goes largely beyond HIV.”

Thanking Barré-Sinoussi, incoming IAS president Chris Beyrer garnered a standing ovation for saying he is the first openly-gay IAS president.

He highlighted parts of the world where progress on human rights was going backwards for groups including sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men, and hindering the global response to HIV and AIDS.

“We should all be deeply concerned about the anti-gay laws and policies being enacted in Russia, India, Nigeria, Uganda, and now being actively debated in many more countries,” Beyrer said.

“As a man who buried too many friends and lovers before we had effective treatment, let me pledge that inclusion for all who need and want HIV services will be a fundamental focus of my leadership.”

Speaking to a major theme of the conference, Melbourne-based advocate for people living with HIV John Manwaring spoke out against stigma and discrimination, and called on everyone to do the same.

“If the past has taught us anything, it is this: silence equals death. When many here come from places where speaking out is dangerous, it is a hard truth to accept,” he said.

“But as I’ve heard people speak over this past week, I have realised an undeniable truth: we are more powerful than we know. Right here, at this moment, exists the power to change the world… A simple conversation, one that is open, fearless and forthright, will change the hardest of hearts and the coldest of minds.”

The next International AIDS Conference will be in 2016 in Durban, South Africa, where it was last hosted in 2000.

 

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