During AIDS2018 a new tradition started with the lightning of the Positive Flame at the event Power of Love. Power of Love is a yearly event within the Dutch hiv community to share the latest news about research, treatment and activism. With the World AIDS conference in Amsterdam this week, it had a front row seat for the latest news. To mark this special occasion the organisers wanted to start a new tradition.
Postive Flame – a beacon of hope
The 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam gave the inspiration for the Positive Flame. At these games the Olympic fire was lighted for the first time and started a tradition that has become a powerful symbol for peace and sportsmanship. The people behind the Positive Flame want to take that idea a step further.
Earlier during the day the mayor of Amsterdam lighted a special torch and handed it over to the first of a 36 person big group of torch bearers. These torch bearers represented the year in which they became hiv positive. Walking through the city that stopped at point to hand over the torch to the next torch-bearer. These stops were sponsored by all kinds of organisations who used this event to get out on the street and highlight different aspects of hiv and Aids to the public. During the walk a tv-crew followed the walk and interviewed several torch bearers and organisers of the hand-over stops.
At the end the flame was carried to the DeLaMar theatre, where the only person who is known to be cured of hiv, Timothy Brown, lighted the big fire on the stage of theatre and kicked of the Power of Love event.
At the end of the conference, two days later, the Positive flame was handed over to the organizers of the next World Aids Conference in 2020 in San Fransisco and Oakland. During this ceremony sex workers and other activists protested against the location of the 2020 conference. They feel that with the violence against sex workers and minorities in the US, the conference should not take place in that country.
Power of Love – looking back and looking forward
The Power of Love is an interesting concept. On the one hand it is a get together of the hiv community to meet and share experiences and make calls for action. On the other hand it is a very informative event about the latest developments in hiv and Aids research and treatment. It is a community event to share knowledge and inspire each other towards new activities. Interwoven are moments to commemorate our heroes and lost friends.
With a World AIDS conference taking place around the corner this edition of Power of Love delivered the audience with a lot of information. In several sections the several guest were interviewed on stage and shared their knowledge and experience. Three professionals shared their findings of the conference in the first section. Then two hiv activists shared their experience. And in the third and final interview three hiv/AIDS “celebreties” took the stage to be interviews by Princes Mabel of Orange.
Findings of the Conference
One of the global UN aims is 90-90-90. This means that by 2020 90% of people have been tested and are aware of their status. Also 90% of those people with hiv should be on anti-retroviral therapy. And finally, that this treatment is effective with 90% of people taking this therapy. This goal is formulated to eradicate by 2030.
In many western countries like The Netherlands we are on track to reach that 90-90-90 goal. But there is still a lot of work to do around the world. In countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia hiv infection is on the rise. Also a fourth 90 goal was formulated during the conference: 90% of people with hiv should have a good quality of live. That means good physical health, no stigma and good mental health.
Several new treatment studies were presented during the conference.
- The first study looked into reducing the number of drugs in the combination therapy. In the so-called Gemini study it was found that a 2 drug therapy is just as effective as a 3 drug therapy. Unfortunately 1 drug treatment is not as effective.
- Another study looked into a new way of administering drugs in a new way. In this study two drugs were injected once every 4 or 8 weeks. It proved an effective new way of giving drugs to patients. And the patients in this study were also more happy with the treatment.
- Finally the results of a major, 8 year-long study were presented into the effects of treatment on transmission. This study proved conclusively that Undetectable means Untransmissable (U=U). These results have a great effect for all couples, where one of the partners has hiv. But especially for straight couples who want to get children this study is of great importance.
For many in the audience a cure is what they are really looking for. So the news about the cure trials was very informative. The so-called River trial is targeting the hiv reservoir within long time hiv people. The tactic is kick and kill: kick hiv out of the reservoir and relying on the resistance system of the body to kill of the exposed hiv virus. The trial is not yet successful, but one small step forward. The next phase might be a combination cure, where the anti-retroviral combination therapy is added to the system of kicking the hiv virus out of the body’s reservoir. Also studies to target acute hiv infection were presented during the conference. These treatment studies showed great promise.
Finally royalty entered the stage in the form of Princes Mabel of Orange and three people who are part of the royalty of the international Aids community: Peter Staley (prominent American Aids activist, among other from Act Up), Françoise Barré-Sinoussi discovered the HIV virus and Nobel price winner, Timothy Brown the only person in the world who has been cured of Aids.
Princes Mabel interviewed these three legends about activism in their time and now. Activism transformed from a war of survival to practical, effective and diverse life saving action. Peter is especially hopeful of the young generation of activists fighting for Prep. He sees a great diversity in the movement, although worldwide feeling of sliding back.
Francoise told us that she is optimistic about durable remission therapy, but less so about the project of a vaccine. She is worried about the rise of infection in East Europe and Central Asia. Scientists and activists have to work together to improve the situation there.