By Anouk Rey, International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference Director
AIDS 2012 comes at a defining moment in the HIV epidemic, but it can only play a pivotal role in turning the tide on HIV if it has a strong programme. Built by a diverse group of more than 1,500 reviewers and committee members from a record number of abstract submissions and programme applications, the conference programme is shaping up to deliver on that promise.
With the announcement that the conference programme-at-a-glance will go live on the AIDS 2012 website on June 8 we wanted to provide an in-depth look at how the conference programme is put together.
The development of the programme is led by the 30-member Conference Coordinating Committee (CCC), with the three programme committees driving much of the process. The CCC includes representatives of all of the conference’s international and U.S. partners. Science, leadership and community are all well represented, and a number of the CCC members represent key affected populations.
Selecting the plenary topics and speakers is one of the CCC’s prime responsibilities. CCC members sought input from their constituencies and from members of the three programme committees in developing proposals for plenary speakers. During a dedicated meeting in October 2011, the CCC identified the key issues to be addressed in the plenary sessions and speakers were proposed. Through discussion and consensus, the CCC chose speakers based on their outstanding contribution to the AIDS response, expertise in a plenary topic area, ability to address a wide and mixed audience in English, and the capacity to integrate ideas and views of different constituencies.
Abstract Review and Selection Process
AIDS 2012 received 11,715 abstracts, a 15% increase over AIDS 2010, and 3,600 abstracts (31%) were accepted for inclusion after an intensive review process. A team of 1,358 peer reviewers – experts in their fields – from 94 nations reviewed and scored the abstracts using a blind, peer-review process. Each abstract was scored by at least three reviewers. The Scientific Programme Committee (SPC) leads this process with the active participation of the track committees – each of the conference’s five scientific tracks has a committee comprising of two co-chairs and 10-12 members with specialized expertise. In late March, 40 members of the SPC and the track committees met to review the highest scoring abstracts, select the abstracts for inclusion, and create 65 oral abstract sessions and 40 oral poster discussion sessions. Co-chairs of the Community Programme Committee (CPC) and the Leadership and Accountability Programme Committee (LAPC) also participated in the process along with observers from several of the conference organizing partners.
In terms of the abstract-driven sessions, it is not possible to determine what percentage is devoted to a specific affected population (MSM, sex workers or people who use drugs, for example) because most abstracts are not population specific. The vast majority of abstracts related to basic and clinical science, for example, apply to scientific issues that affect large segments of those living with or at-risk for HIV.
Selection Process for Non-Abstract Driven Sessions
In addition to the abstract driven sessions, a substantial portion of the conference programme will be non-abstract driven sessions. These sessions take several different formats and address a variety of viewpoints and issues. All three programme committees developed these sessions with stakeholder input. More than half are on topics related to key affected populations, including men who have sex with men, transgender communities, sex workers and people who use drugs.
Review and Selection Process for Programme Activities and Workshops
Enthusiasm for the Global Village, Youth Programme and Workshops was also high. We received 1,025 programme activity proposals (Global Village and Youth Programme), a 34% increase over AIDS 2010. The proposals were reviewed by members of the Global Village and Youth Programme Working Groups and a team of nominated reviewers. Both working groups include members of the CPC, LAPC and the SPC. Each proposal was scored by at least two reviewers using a confidential, blind scoring system. In late March, members of the groups met to review the highest scoring proposals and select 280 programme activity proposals (27%) for inclusion in the Global Village and Youth Programme.
We also received 576 workshop proposals for consideration, representing a16% increase over AIDS 2010. These too went through an intensive review processes with 40 workshop proposals (7%) accepted. Workshop proposals were initially reviewed by a team of nominated reviewers with each proposal scored by at least two reviewers. In late March, members of the Workshops Working Group, which includes members of the CPC, LAPC and SPC met to review the highest scoring proposals and select the workshop sessions. These workshops will be added to an existing suite of workshops (20) designed by the programme committees and CCC, bringing the total number of workshops to 60.
With these pieces in place, we are now putting the finishing touches on the programme and getting it ready to go live on the conference website on June 8. We hope you’re looking forward to AIDS 2012 and the return of the International AIDS Conference to the U.S. as much as we are!