After every two years around July, HIV community from around the world gathers at a conference to share research findings around the scourge.
However, for the first time in over two decades, the conference that brings together scientists, policymakers, healthcare professionals, people living with HIV and members of the press will go virtual this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 23rd International Aids Conference was initially scheduled to be held in San Francisco and Oakland in the United States.
With more than 600 virtual sessions lined up, the conference will allow delegates to access and engage with the latest HIV science, advocacy and knowledge.
About 20,000 participants from more than 170 countries were expected to attend the conference in San Francisco, but now that it will be online, a higher number is expected to participate.
“We do hope many more will register due to the cheaper fees and of course no need to travel.
We have also given out an unprecedented number of scholarships and ways to connect, including enhancing people’s connectivity in lower and middle-income countries,” said Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, immediate past president of the International Aids Society (IAS).
Prof Bekker, who is also the deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, said the organisers have been able to pack more sessions and add more delegates who will share their research findings with the HIV community.
During the opening session Monday, Prof Bekker said that the decision to go virtual had been the right one to limit physical contact since it was not possible to have all the delegates attending a sitting conference due to travel bans that are still in place.
The conference will present updates on HIV cure, and long-acting PrEP (pre-exposure) prevention, clinical updates on the use of dolutegravir (a new blockbuster HIV drug) and the impact of Covid-19 on HIV services.
The conference will be highlighted in three time zones with all three zones getting an equal number of live and recorded versions.
Dr Anton Pozniak, the International AIDS Society (IAS) President and AIDS 2020: Virtual International Scientific chairperson said the moment is a defining for the global HIV movement across the world.
“Every conversation we have now sits at the confluence of the Covid-19 pandemic and a new global reckoning with systemic racism,” Dr Pozniak said
He added: “It won’t have the same feel of meeting one on one, of course, but we’ll try and generate the same energy and the same connectivity. And the lack of an audience doesn’t seem to worry a lot of the younger generation that does a lot of connections online.
"This Covid-19 crisis has converted us from being very, very social and wanting to be next to each other into doing things from a distance to get our thoughts and ideas across," he said.
At the end of the conference the IAS will also be hosting a free virtual Covid-19 Conference between July 10 and 11 on breaking research, policy developments, and front-line experiences related to the pandemic.