Submitted by Robert Clay, Director of USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS
Over 20,000 people (a small city) all focusing on one of the greatest development problems of our time. The first thing that strikes you is the diversity of those at the meeting – from the famous (Bill Clinton and Bill Gates) to academia (professors and students) to civil society and advocates to multilateral and bilateral donors to pharma. There are talks, seminars, posters, demonstrations (even in the plenary sessions), exhibits, condom demonstrations, cultural events, marches, press conferences, and lots of reports and products to take home. At times, it reminds me of a village scene in India where I lived for 5 years – crowded, colorful, loud, unpredictable, widely diverse, and even wonderful food smells.
There is definitely a buzz in the air. The results of the USAID-funded CAPRISA 004 trial results has excited everyone – standing ovations and tears from those who have waited so long for good microbicide news. But also excitement at seeing other results since the last meeting two years ago and hearing insightful analysis on how to overcome barriers. There is personal excitement of seeing old friends and colleagues and making new contacts in this diverse setting.
But concerns are also there. Will the money dry up? Will leaders change negative policies that fuel stigma? Will we be able to stop the number getting infected? These are big issues and everyone here seems consumed in trying to solve these problems.
This has been intensive and on the last day you can see the tired and sleep deprived faces. I don’t think people could do this any longer – especially since so many want to get back to implementing all the new ideas. But after a good rest, I’m sure most will have renewed energy and determination from Vienna. I know I can’t wait to get back to work!