Mega-conferences are exhausting events. The International AIDS Conference in Vienna in mid-July was no exception. It brought together 20,000 participants of diverse backgrounds – scientists, experts, funders, activists and people living with AIDS – and the programme was as thick as a big city phone book. It is challenging to make sense of the overall event and to get your own ideas heard.
Still, these conferences are key moments where the global narratives crystallize, where public attention is focused, breakthroughs are announced and progress is tracked. They often give rise to alliances of groups fighting for change.
The Coalition on Children Affected by AIDS (CCABA) is a case in point. A group of organizations from North and South working to improve the lives of children infected and affected by AIDS, it includes the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Comic Relief, the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, ELMA Philanthropies, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Firelight Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Stop AIDS Now. Since its founding after the 2004 Bangkok AIDS conference, CCABA has done a number of things that other philanthropic collectives working on similar large conferences could also do, including funding a symposium focused on children and AIDS before each AIDS conference; helping child-focused organizations develop high-quality abstracts for presentations; commissioning high-quality research on key children’s issues and information gaps; providing a ‘roadmap’ to child-focused sessions and activities within the conference; and successfully arguing for, and raising funding for, a senior specialist on children within the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
These are exciting times for those working on children and AIDS. Global leaders and health experts agreed in Vienna that it should be possible to eliminate transmission of AIDS at birth by 2015, and thus in time to end paediatric AIDS. It will take solid efforts in research, advocacy, policy and service delivery. There will be many opportunities for philanthropic efforts to support this goal.