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IAS 2011 in Rome: An exciting opportunity

Posted 21 juin 2013, 11:14 , by Guest

By Ranjita Biswas, India, IAS 2011 Media Scholarship Recipient

Earning a media scholarship to attend the 6th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2011 ) in Rome, gave me an opportunity to interact with researchers, organizers, and most important of all, be privy to  the exciting news about Treatment as Prevention. As revealed at the IAS 2013, breaking news kind of information in the AIDS-related field, separate studies provided the first evidence that a daily oral dose of antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV infection could reduce HIV acquisition among uninfected individuals exposed to the virus through heterosexual sex.

Coming from India, a country with a high incidence of HIV infection, this new information was exciting indeed. India is a country where HIV infection through partners in heterosexual relationships, mostly between married couples, is quite common. This is because married women are usually into monogamous relationships but husbands often leave home for cities in search of jobs and if they get infected by having unprotected sex they often pass on the infection to their wives while visiting home. This has been a particularly problematic area in rural hinterland of India. Unfortunately, in a largely patriarchal society, it is the woman who has to suffer more and is often ostracized by the society. 

Back home, my report from the IAS 2011 conference on this subject created quite a buzz. Had I not attended the Conference perhaps it would have been difficult to understand the nitty-gritty of these research projects and why it is so relevant to our times.

Besides the latest research, I focused on these toics: mental health of patients and care-givers, the problems of mother-to-child infection, limitation of resources for antiretroviral (ART) drug programmes and stigma.

Shortage of funds and resources for ART programmes and stigma are live issues in my country. But I also learned that it is a problem not confined to India but to most countries in the South-South. On a positive note, it was heartening to learn about processes and personal experiences that stigma can be tackled. I have shared these personal stories and experiences with people in the NGO sector back home who are active in this area.

As a health journalist, the other ‘plus’ was the opportunity to interact with fellow journalists, and being able to attend the pre-session media workshops with  experts like Richard Ingham (AFP) providing a valuable ready reckoner like ‘AIDS Anniversary Timeline,’ with a history of the disease and the milestones, as also ‘Where is HIV/AIDS in the media today’( a depleting interest of editors  giving an excuse of ‘AIDS-fatigue’ is a daunting challenge for writers) and so ‘Story Ideas for HIV/AIDS’ by Bob Meyers (National Press Foundation, USA) was a useful guide. The subject of prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) by Laura Guay introduced with the attention-grabbing real life story of Elizabeth Glaser, a forerunner in paediatric HIV/AIDS research who learnt through personal tragedy the need for it, was again an issue so relevant to my country.