Highlights from the 2015 International AIDS Society conference

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Held every two years, the International AIDS Society conference is a gathering of doctors, researchers, and experts who comes together to discuss and report on the latest developments. This 2015 conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, and hosted over 6,500 attendees. While there were numerous presentations and findings presented over the three day event, these are the top highlights:

  • Guys who get tested frequently love the idea of getting their results right away. While quick tests can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, which often results in a waiting period filled with anxiety and fear, there is a new one-minute HIV test. This test is the best at detecting HIV in early stages of infection. Interesting fact, this test was developed and manufactured in Vancouver, BC!
  • Viiv, an HIV drug manufacturer (a partnership between Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline), reported they are interested in the idea of providing free counselling to people taking their medication. Having HIV can be extremely stressful and finding emotional support can be difficult. The idea would be welcomed by the HIV positive community as another resource available, especially during the early stages of learning they are HIV positive.
  • Truvada as PrEP is available to in Washington and New York states free of charge. The decision was made to offer the drug for free because it was less expensive to prevent HIV than to treat someone who is HIV positive for his entire life. While the medication is free, the patient still needs to pay for his own lab work, which ranges from $100-300 per month. Canada still lags behind the use of Truvada as PrEP, frustrating many doctors and gay men.
  • Known as the Berlin Patient, Tim Brown was both HIV positive and was diagnosed with cancer. Tim underwent cancer treatment after his doctor found a donor who was immune to HIV. The procedure resulted in Tim being cured of both cancer and HIV. He is the first person in the world known to be cured of HIV.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a controversial subject for some segments of the gay community. There is a false belief that guys who take PrEP will have more sex and unprotected sex, and therefore result in having more STI’s. The studies to date to not support these myths and rumors. However, a small segment of the HIV positive community is having trouble with negative guys taking antiretroviral drugs because they feel it is unfair that they can have sex, without the guilt and worry of contracting HIV. This has lead to some judgement about guys not being responsible. Right or wrong, the fact is, PrEP is safer sex and not a single person who takes Truvada as PrEP on a daily basis has seroconverted.
  • Treatment as prevention (TasP), is when a person’s viral load has been reduced to such a minimal level that is not detectable, and therefore they cannot transmit HIV. In 2013, there was still some researchers that doubted the studies; however, it has now been proven as an effective method to reducing the spread of HIV because people who are HIV positive undetectable cannot infect others when their viral load count is undetectable.
  • The conference did not dive deep into HIV immunity research; however, 15-20% of Europeans are immune or partially immune to HIV. There is a lab in Toronto that can conduct tests to check your immunity levels.

HIV is a very complicated subject and it is through these types of conferences that information sharing is so important. From how to treat people living with HIV, to treatment as prevention, to keeping people HIV negative, there is much the medical community is still learning and researching. Since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s we have come a long way. While there is still much work to be done, there is a sense of optimism that there could be a cure in the near future! We already have prevention!