AS the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in draws to a close, organisers reflected upon the accomplishments, lessons, missed opportunities and tragedy that all contributed to the make-up of the event this week.

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, outgoing AIDS 2014 chair Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said that the six-day event had been a chance for science to return to the forefront of the debate alongside the community following the tragedy of MH17.

“After the tragedy and the loss of colleagues and friends, I found out that finally what we had been going through showed to me that there is a lot of respect among our community for all of us. If one of us isn’t here, all of us are concerned,” Barré-Sinoussi said.

“The community is united… my feeling is that at the conference, it’s probably the first time that we are opening the field of HIV/AIDS to others. It’s what I hear from colleagues…science is good now again, science is back at the AIDS conference.”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said that the way the city had embraced Australia’s largest-ever health conference touched his heart and recounted stories involving delegates being at the receiving end of acts of kindness by Melburnians.

After Barré-Sinoussi passed on her best wishes to the first openly-gay president of the International AIDS Society, Chris Beyrer, the New Yorker thanked his colleague and Melbourne for hosting the conference and praised Australia’s response to the epidemic while also highlighting it could continue to show the way in the future.

“The whole [HIV and AIDS] movement is grateful to Melbourne, grateful to Australia and we really hope that the Melbourne Declaration is going to be a living document that is going to continue to inform our response, “ Beyrer said.

“This is the conference than anywhere else before where the separations betweens scientists, clinicians… and people living with HIV and activists truly went away.”

Beyrer turned his attention towards the next International AIDS Conference to be held in Durban, South Africa in 2016, the first in the sub-continent since 2000, and welcomed the first female African co-chair of the event.

“I’m delighted to say that one of the reasons for my optimism about the future is that my co chair is my great friend Olive Shisana,” Beyrer added.

The AIDS 2014 closing ceremony begins at 3.30pm today, with special guests Bob Geldof and South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

(Main image: Closing press conference attendees: John Manwaring (Living Positive Victoria); AIDS 2014 co-chairs Sharon Lewin and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi; AIDS 2016 co-chairs Chris Beyrer and Olive Shisana; Elliot Ross Albers; and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)


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