THE BLOG

Behind the Scenes in Melbourne

05/03/2014 11:07 GMT | Updated 04/05/2014 10:59 BST

I think all of us who have attended an International AIDS Conference in some capacity will agree that events of this kind are few and far between. I go to many conferences both as a delegate and speaker and nothing rivals the pure energy, colour and emotion that International AIDS conferences bring to the people that attend them, in the first instance and secondly, to the cities that host them.

In the broader public's mind of course, some of these conferences have been defined by the history- defining moments that they facilitated: the announcement of the first antiretrovirals at the Vancouver conference in 1996 was undoubtedly one of the great scientific breakthroughs of the past century ; the "life saving " speech delivered by the great late Nelson Mandela at the 2000 Durban conference which effectively paved the way for bringing antiretrovirals to South Africa and so many parts of the continent to turn around an epidemic that was still killing so many millions.

All the conferences are notable for the pure energy of their delegates and high profile, activism: I recall moments like the boisterous activist " death" march through a packed media centre in Mexico in 2008 and Annie Lennox singing to a sea of orange clad activists in the streets of Vienna in 2010 (link). Not to mention seeing on countless occasions those people most affected by the epidemic - HIV positive mothers, men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers, transgender women - all mixing it up with Ministers of Health, popstars, actors, UN officials and others at official receptions, demonstrations, launches......

And it is the cities that host the event that also light up too. Local businesses - bars, restaurants, nightclubs or department stores - all buy into the idea and there is an extraordinary buzz in the town centre when the IAC comes to town.

I might be accused of being biased as I am a Melbourne girl through and through but ask anyone who has worked on a number of conferences and they are all saying the same thing - never has the conference had such strong and committed third party support so determined to promote the event and its host city.

I think we were all very impressed and extremely pleased with the very public World AIDS Day activities in the city late last year but from what I gather this was merely a precursor to what we can expect in July. There are currently over 80 (and still counting) events that are potentially happening in and around the city for AIDS 2014

For starters: some 30 prominent buildings across Melbourne will be lit red for the duration of the conference replicating what has been done with the city's spire. The National Gallery of Victoria will host an exhibition of David MacDiarmid's art works. Variety performers from across Melbourne are donating their only night off, Monday evening July 21, to present "Twisted Broadway', a long standing tradition in Melbourne celebrating the contributions people affected by HIV have made to the Arts.....

I'm told too that sporting and classical musical music events will feature prominently and that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community are working on a grand welcome to all those visiting Melbourne.

Everyone will certainly know AIDS 2014 is in town - painted red letters will be installed on the city's main bridge and I'm sure that our glowing international reputation for serving some of the best food anywhere will see our local restaurants and wine bars brimming around the event.

In the meantime there still remains the serious task of pulling the program together and I look forward to meeting my International co-chair Françoise Barré-Sinoussi in Melbourne in April as we steer that process to its final stage. I am excited that we are going to deliver an incredibly strong and newsworthy program.

I am actually writing this from Boston, USA, where the latest annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) is taking place and while this is a very different species of conference to the International AIDS Conference, on the programming side we continue to have much to learn from it - it simply produces some outstanding research and that is something that the International AIDS Conference, for all its inspiring big moments, colour and emotion, I believe, should always humbly aspire to as well. Science should always be at the heart of everything we do - it has already dramatically transformed the epidemic and political commitment willing, can help end it.