Past International Conferences

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This information has been taken from amfAR’s website covering the past Int’l AIDS Conference throughout the world.

International AIDS Conference 1985-2002

Text Box:  Over the years, the International AIDS Conference has provided a unique opportunity for activists, government representatives, public health experts, HIV/AIDS service providers, and scientists from around the world to meet and discuss the latest advances in HIV/AIDS research, prevention, public policy, and treatment and care—and to build partnerships to fight the global pandemic.


The first International AIDS Conference was held in 1985, and the conference was convened annually until 1994, when it became a biennial meeting. The International AIDS Society (IAS) was established in 1988 primarily to determine future venues of the international conference. In 1994, the IAS was restructured and assumed responsibility for organizing the International AIDS Conference series, including programming and financing.

Following is a brief history of the International AIDS Conference, highlighting some of the key scientific advances and important social and policy issues that were addressed.

1985 (Atlanta, GA)

The first International AIDS Conference was sponsored by several federal agencies and the World Health Organization (WHO). The first meeting of its kind, and held relatively early in the course of the epidemic, the conference presented an overview of current knowledge of HIV/AIDS and updates on ongoing programs in treatment, prevention, and basic research. Discussion topics included a new HIV test, the rapid spread of HIV worldwide, and the rise in heterosexual transmission. A Harvard researcher presented provocative findings that a virus very similar to HIV was widespread in African green monkeys, suggesting that this simian virus may have been the source of human AIDS. Moreover, although the monkeys harbored the virus, they were not affected by it, raising questions that might hold potential for an HIV treatment or vaccine.

1986 (Paris, France)

Although no unexpected research breakthroughs were reported at the II International AIDS Conference, scientists did present initial findings from several experimental AIDS treatment and vaccine trials. Importantly, there was a general understanding at the conference that effective treatments would not be available for use in the very near future, and that prevention was crucial to stopping the spread of HIV. The meeting also helped foster a growing awareness of the need to develop a global response to the epidemic, and a subsequent meeting of WHO in Geneva outlined the first global strategy against AIDS. Representatives from several African nations participated in the 1986 conference, making significant contributions to forging a global strategy and pledging strong political commitment to fighting AIDS in their home countries.

1987 (Washington, D.C.)

At the III International AIDS Conference, the social and political issues surrounding HIV testing and treatment took center stage. President Reagan gave his first-ever speech on AIDS at an amfAR-sponsored dinner on the eve of the conference. Demonstrators protesting the administration’s call for more widespread HIV testing were arrested by police wearing bright yellow rubber gloves, after Attorney General Edwin Meese told police chiefs that officers should wear rubber gloves when handling people at high risk for AIDS. Other activists protested the slow drug approval process, arguing that they were being denied potentially lifesaving treatments while scientists conducted lengthy clinical trials.

I am struck by how little is known about human sexuality, drug abuse and other risk-taking behavior [that are crucial to the spread of AIDS]. —Dr. Lars Olaf Kallings at the III Int'l AIDS Conference

1988 (Stockholm, Sweden)

Despite HIV co-discoverer Dr. Robert Gallo's statement that the era of "dramatic advances is over," several significant announcements were made at the IV International AIDS Conference. A better understanding of the structure of the AIDS virus was suggesting new treatment possibilities. And a network linking academic, commercial, and federal research laboratories in the US. with one another and with their counterparts abroad, was officially launched. Additionally, the Stockholm conference had a more personal, human angle than previous meetings, featuring a series of sessions called "The Face of AIDS" that incorporated the perspectives of AIDS patients, as well as a display of quilted memorials to those who had died of AIDS.

1989 (Montreal, Canada)

The V International AIDS Conference sought to highlight the scientific and social challenges presented by AIDS and emphasized both the rising rate of HIV among injection drug users (IDUs) and their sexual partners worldwide, and the growing number of HIV-infected individuals without access to care and treatment. While government officials and some public health officials had been calling for widespread testing, mandatory reporting of HIV infections, and contact tracing, AIDS advocates argued that such coercive measures could backfire and discourage people from getting tested for HIV, particularly in the absence of effective treatments. Needle exchange was also an important topic of debate, with several European countries presenting studies showing sharp reductions in needle sharing among IDUs who received sterile syringes and counseling.

One of the most disturbing things I’ve heard at and around this meeting is the association of HIV-transmission and crack cocaine. There you have one terrible epidemic superimposing itself on another one without a lot of optimism that we know how to completely control either one. —Dr. Paul Volberding at the V Int'l AIDS Conference

1990 (San Francisco, CA)

At the VI International AIDS Conference, politics again seemed to eclipse the presentation of scientific data. There were demonstrations during the week-long conference, with activists protesting federal policy banning HIV-infected individuals from immigrating or even traveling to the U.S., as well as the government’s slow response to the epidemic. Protestors drowned out the closing speech of the conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan. The diversity of voices at the conference helped further legitimize the growing involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS in developing AIDS policy and setting research priorities.

1991 (Florence, Italy)

The VII International AIDS Conference focused on the theme "Science Challenging AIDS." Advances in understanding how HIV infects cells were reported, as well as data on vaccine trials and new drug development. However, continued protest over the U.S.immigration policy banning HIV-infected individuals overshadowed this conference as well, and it was announced that the next meeting, scheduled to be held in Boston, would be cancelled unless the policy was changed. (The U.S. immigration ban on HIV-infected individuals is still in effect and no international AIDS conferences have been held in the country since 1990 in protest of this policy.)

1992 (Amsterdam, Holland)

The VIII International AIDS Conference did take place, but in Amsterdam, Holland, and not in Bostonas originally planned. Here the focus shifted back to science, with several researchers reporting cases of HIV-negative individuals who exhibited AIDS-like symptoms. Fear of new human immunodeficiency viruses galvanized conference organizers, who planned an impromptu session on the issue, as well as a press conference. The explosion of scientific interest in this area also led the head of WHO's Global Program on AIDS to launch a worldwide investigation of these cases. (This condition is now known as "idiopathic CD4+ T-lymphocytopenia," to describe an unexplained loss of CD4 immune cells.)

1993 (Berlin, Germany)

The IX International AIDS Conference highlighted the growing tensions between scientists and AIDS activists, resource-poor countries and the developed world, and pharmaceutical companies and people living with HIV/AIDS. Activists called for quicker, more comprehensive efforts to stem the epidemic and criticized the slow pace of AIDS research and drug development. Public health experts emphasized the rapid spread of HIV in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe and urged increased spending on prevention. On the treatment front, there were some positive developments. Despite continued debate over the effectiveness of AZT in delaying AIDS symptoms, preliminary results on two new classes of drugs—protease inhibitors and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors—looked promising.

"We do not have a magic bullet although we have invested and continue to invest billions of dollars in its pursuit. We need to change our priorities. We need to emphasize prevention, and we need to allocate resources for it." — Harvard researcher Yamil H. Kouri at the IX International AIDS Conference

1994 (Yokohama, Japan)

For the first time, the annual AIDS meeting was held in Asia. A key outcome of the X International AIDS Conference was the realization that many questions about the science of HIV infection and the virus itself remained unanswered, underscoring the need for continued investment in basic research. Other major conference topics included the use of AZT to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission, the exponential rise in the number of HIV infections in Asia, and the connection between treatment, viral load (i.e., the amount of HIV in the bloodstream), and disease progression.

"If we do not provide innovative scientists with the resources and opportunities to attack basic unsolved problems related to AIDS and HIV, we may find that a decade from now, we are no further along in our struggle." — William Paul, former head of NIH's Office of AIDS Research, at the X International AIDS Conference

1995 Atlanta, GA

No information provided from amfAR’s website.

1996 (Vancouver, Canada)

The XI International AIDS Conference was generally seen as the most hopeful and optimistic AIDS conference to date. Protease inhibitors had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1995, and the Vancouver meeting was marked by considerable excitement over the promising clinical results emerging from studies of protease inhibitors in combination with other anti-HIV drugs. These combination therapies were reported to significantly decrease viral load, boost T-cell counts, and extend the lives of patients with HIV/AIDS at all stages of clinical disease. But researchers remained uncertain whether even the most potent anti-HIV drug combinations could completely eradicate the virus from the body. The results reported at the conference helped pave the way for large-scale clinical trials of how best to use the different drug combinations.

1998 (Geneva, Switzerland)

The XII International AIDS Conference was described by Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), as the conference of "new realism." New advances in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment were reported, as were obstacles such as viral resistance, ensuring patient compliance with complex treatment regimens, and drug side effects. The conference theme, "Bridging the Gap," recognized the growing gap between industrialized and developing nations with respect to the availability of the new combination therapies, and attendees expressed a renewed commitment to broadening global treatment access and developing preventive measures such as a vaccine.

Portions of the International AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display at this conference.

2000 (Durban, South Africa)

The XIII International AIDS Conference marked the first time the conference was hosted by an African country. "Break the Silence" was the theme of the 2002 conference, underscoring how fear, stigma, and denial about HIV/AIDS continue to hinder prevention and care efforts. The 2000 conference will probably be remembered most for focusing global attention on the lack of treatment access in developing countries and the urgent need to lower the cost of anti-HIV drugs and to build essential health care infrastructure. The Durban conference also highlighted the increasing rate of infection among women, and many participants protested South African President Thabo Mbeki's continued unwillingness to acknowledge HIV as the cause of AIDS.

Portions of the International AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display at this conference, facilitated by Global Quilt and International AIDS Prevention Initiative.

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2002 (Barcelona, Spain)

The XIV International AIDS Conference took place in Barcelona from July 7 - 12, 2002. The theme for the 2002 conference was 'Knowledge and Commitment for Action', reflecting the need to translate knowledge gained from science and experience into action at all levels.  President Bill Clinton and President Mandella were two of the keynote speakers at the conference.

Approximately 14,000 participants attended the conference, and portions of the International AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display at this conference, hosted by NAMES Project Barcelona, and Quilt portions from multiple countries were facilitated by Global Quilt and International AIDS Prevention Initiative.


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