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Beyond the first 25 years: the IAS and its role in the global response to AIDS

Craig McClure
1 January, 2008  

Craig McClure
Executive Director
International AIDS Society

In 1981 the first indication of a disturbing new illness that defied medical classification appeared in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.(1) Little could have prepared the world for the human catastrophe that followed. We are now just past the 25 year mark in the history of this epidemic and yet, despite impressive scientific advances in both diagnosis and treatment, it is continuing to outpace our efforts to contain it.

International AIDS Society
As the world’s leading independent association of professionals working in HIV, the International AIDS ­Society has a unique role to play as part of the global response to this epidemic in the decades to come. With over 10,000 members from 171 countries, the IAS represents individuals working at every level of the response. The IAS was established as a nonprofit organisation in 1988, with a mandate to organise the biennial International AIDS Conferences. The Stockholm-based staff remained small, and responsibility­ for organising the conferences was primarily undertaken by professional ­conference ­organisers. This changed in 2004, when the IAS Governing Council decided to upgrade its structure by strengthening the professional staff at the secretariat and moving the headquarters to Geneva, ­Switzerland, to strengthen links with other health nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and UN multilateral agencies. Since then the IAS secretariat has grown to a professional staff of 30, and the Governing Council has established an ambitious agenda of work for the organisation over the coming years, outlined in Stronger Together: Strategic Framework 2005–2009, available on the IAS website. An initial priority for the IAS in 2005 was to undertake a comprehensive review of the International AIDS Conference, which had evolved from a small medical meeting in Atlanta, GA, USA, in 1984 to a ­massive, multisectoral health conference attended by over 21,000 delegates in Toronto, Canada in 2006. The IAS consulted broadly with stakeholders on how to maximise the reach and impact of the conference, and received input through group consultations, confidential interviews, internet fora and other ­meetings. The recommendations from those consultations – among others, to improve quality of science, to ­broaden diversity, to facilitate cross-disciplinary linkages and dialogue, and to strengthen the focus on youth –­ ­began to be implemented in the planning for AIDS 2006 in Toronto, and will be implemented more fully in planning for the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, 2008. The report from the ­Future Directions project, including detailed recommendations, is available on the IAS website. We are also strengthening the conference’s role as an accountability mechanism, a focus reflected in the conference theme of AIDS 2006, Time to Deliver, which has implications across disciplines and the three programme areas of science, community and leadership.

The IAS in different regions
In addition to the large international conferences, the IAS also organises the biennial Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention Conference, which was last held in Sydney, Australia, 22–25 July 2007. This is the first open, international scientific meeting on HIV, and it was recently expanded to ­recognise and ­encourage the importance of biomedical prevention research. It provides researchers and clinicians with opportunities to discuss the latest advances in HIV research across the three major scientific tracks ­(basic, clinical and biomedical prevention science) and to address how advances in research can be ­rapidly applied to practice.

The IAS is also strengthening its commitment to regional development, expanding our involvement in three main areas: collaboration with regional societies, engagement with regional conferences, and ­supporting and expanding IAS membership in each region. The IAS was a co-organiser of the first Eastern­ European and Central Asian Conference on AIDS (EECAAC), held in Moscow in 2006, and has also ­provided technical support and advice to other regional conferences. There is no “one size fits all” approach to regional activities. The unique characteristics of each region require that we build strong ­relations with key players in each region, learn all we can about the particular issues facing HIV professionals there and tailor our activities to meet the needs and requests for collaboration that we receive.

Several initiatives are coordinated by the IAS. The IAS Industry Liaison Forum is designed to accelerate­ scientifically promising, ethical research in resource-limited settings, with a particular focus on the role and responsibility of industry as sponsors and supporters of research. ILF supports dialogue between the pharmaceutical industry, independent investigators and major contributors to research ­investment such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The IAS, under both the ILF and our work with the Gates ­Foundation, has become a significant force in placing pre-exposure prevention prophylaxis (PREP) ­research on the agenda of policymakers and opinion-leaders. The IAS also co-publishes the electronic Journal of the International AIDS Society (eJIAS) with Medscape General Medicine, a peer-reviewed, open-access ­scientific journal aimed at publishing research focused on the developing world.

Education and training
In addition to these initiatives, the IAS is also increasingly involved in the development and delivery of a range of education and training programmes designed to help individuals working in HIV advance ­professionally, from administering the HIV research trust training scholarships to the development of an IAS education programme for IAS 2007. Providing education and training opportunities for its membership is important for any professional society, and the IAS is looking at ways to expand its role in this area in order to strengthen the capacity of the HIV workforce.

The IAS has been increasingly involved in policy and advocacy debates over the past two years. We have advocated strongly for the availability of methadone and buprenorphine in Eastern Europe and ­Central Asia, where injecting drug use is fuelling the epidemic; on the need for greater political ­accountability on setting and meeting treatment and prevention targets through the UN General ­Assembly Special ­Session (UNGASS) process; and on increased investment to train, hire and sustain human ­resources required for scaling up prevention, treatment and care programmes in the developing world. A detailed policy and ­advocacy strategy, currently in development, will ensure the IAS is an effective advocate for its ­membership, bringing its voice and influence on key policy issues, in collaboration with other ­stakeholders engaged in the response to HIV/AIDS.

The IAS has a unique opportunity and responsibility to bring together individuals working in diverse ­settings and disciplines, from areas of the world separated by geography, culture, language and ­resources, and to leverage the expertise and knowledge of its members in an effective, sustained, ­global response. If there is a lesson to be learned from our history with this disease, it is that we can do far more collectively than we can individually. As the IAS embarks on an ambitious new phase in its development, we are looking forward to strengthening our engagement with the scientific community, while we build new partnership with NGOs, activists and others working on the frontlines of the response. The IAS encourages all professionals working in the HIV/AIDS field to become members. We are convinced that in the struggle against this epidemic we will be stronger together.


  1. CDC. Pneumocystis pneumonia – Los Angeles. Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep 1981;30:250-2. Available at:

International AIDS society
Electronic Journal of the International AIDS Society (eJIAS)