Next week activists, doctors, politicians, and public health experts from around the world will convene in Vienna, Austria, for the XVIII International AIDS Conference. The Conference will last from July 18 to 23 and will include over 25,000 participants from over 100 countries.

The establishment of the Millennium Development Goals by the United Nations in 2000 drew international attention to the enormity of the challenges facing our world in the 21st century. MDG 6 vows to combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, and it ramped up the world’s collaboration around the issue of AIDS. The call to action at the 2000 International AIDS Conference in South Africa reiterated the need for cooperation and attention to this issue, and there has been huge progress in providing ARVs to more people around the world, decreasing the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and increasing prevention and education efforts. However, the first major milestone of MDG 6 was to have universal access to treatment by 2010, and that has definitely not been achieved. In fact, the rate of new HIV infections continues to exceed the rate at which access to treatment is expanding.1 The second prong of MDG 6 is to have halted and begun to reduce the spread of HIV around the world by 2015. It’s still possible, and part of the focus of this conference will be sharing best practices and revamping international efforts to that end.

Why hasn’t the international community been able to achieve its goal to halt HIV/AIDS?

There are a myriad of factors, each of which varies from country to country and region to region, making universal strategies difficult to implement.  Elements like poverty, illiteracy, lack of funding, unreliable transportation (in order to access services or for service providers to get to isolated populations), cultural norms, conflict, the presence of other diseases like Tuberculosis, unavailability of human resources, drugs, and tests, all factor into the HIV disaster equation.  There are groups of all sorts tackling these issues – local NGOs, international NGOs, governments, doctors, and public health organizations. But one of the biggest elements that is often left out of this equation is the voices of youth. This is, after all, the biggest generation of youth in history. Youth, as defined by the UN as people aged 15-24, make up approximately one sixth of the world’s population, or about one billion people around the globe.2 And youth are the largest group affected by the AIDS epidemic. We account for almost 45% of new HIV infections around the world, and we have never known a world without AIDS.

Accordingly, youth are playing an increasing role in the global discussion about HIV/AIDS.  There is a four day pre-conference designed especially for youth to help them better navigate the conference, and the Vienna Youth Force is working to make sure that youth’s voices are heard at the conference, and to enable more youth activists to come.  The next International AIDS Conference will be in two years, so follow this year’s conference through their official website and think about what you can do between now and then to make your voice heard. Or, if you happen to have a week of free time and can spring a ticket to Vienna, fill out your last minute application here; registration is open through July 13th.


2Youth Pocketbook Guide to Navigating International AIDS Conferences