By Ian Hodgson, International HIV/AIDS Alliance Key Correspondent
This year, the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) comes back to the US after 22 years of absence.
From what began as a meeting of like-minded scientists in 1985, the International AIDS Conference has grown to not only the biggest conference on HIV, but also the largest global event covering a single topic. For citizen journalists, with deadlines to meet, readers to inform, and editors to please, the sheer size of the conference and the plethora of available information can be bewildering. With an appropriate strategy in place, however, it is possible to make sense of this rollercoaster ride, producing informed and effective materials. And learn a lot, too.
For this writer, AIDS 2012 will be the seventh consecutive conference as a correspondent. Each conference has unique characteristics, reflecting location, and key emerging issues around HIV and AIDS at the time. At each event, there is also a memorable ‘significant announcement’ – in Durban (2000) for example, it was Nelson Mandela speaking of challenges tackling AIDS in Africa. In Bangkok (AIDS 2004), it was the continuing lack of access to HIV treatment. In Vienna (AIDS 2010), it was the conclusive evidence, for the first time, of the benefits of microbicides in protecting against HIV, and the call for a stronger focus on human rights for injecting drug users (IDU) – reflecting the conference’s proximity to Eastern Europe’s largely ineffective harm reduction programmes.
For journalists, making sense of the International AIDS Conference can be challenging. With its 20,000+ delegates, hundreds of presentations, meetings and workshops, and thousands of posters, meaningful planning can be a bit like trying to herd kittens: lots of running around, but with a risk in the end of achieving very little. Three things now help me ‘survive’ the conferences:
- Using the conference website to develop a ‘personal’ conference plan, tracking chosen subject(s) and building in time to actually write some articles
- Utilizing the Media Centre’s excellent resources – transcripts of major papers are available very soon after each presentation, and together with daily press conferences, writers can get to the root (and source) of many important developments.
- ‘Speaking my world’ – using my own experience and insights to guide the focus and shape of articles. This ensures relevance to HIV-affected people and communities and, more broadly, better information sharing and advocacy.
That final point is perhaps the most important. One of the great ironies of the International AIDS Conference is that people affected by HIV are those most unlikely to attend. For citizen journalists, being at the conference offers a fantastic opportunity to have real influence on the reporting and dissemination of HIV-related issues. It’s a rewarding and satisfying experience, and where else is it possible to ask direct questions of the movers and shakers in the HIV world, on behalf of those most affected?
That’s right. Nowhere.