Episode 6 - 2004-2006: IAS Consolidation and Expansion
The Governing Council decided to move the IAS Secretariat from Stockholm to Geneva in order to be closer to other major international health and development organizations as well as UNAIDS and WHO, with which it had established a close working relationship. The GC put in place a new management structure and additional professional staff was recruited to organize the International AIDS Conferences and IAS Conferences on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment. The Secretariat moved from Stockholm to Geneva in September 2004 under the leadership of newly-hired Executive Director Craig McClure, a Canadian with a long work history in AIDS both internationally and in his native country. Expanding the IAS Secretariat and strengthening stewardship of the conferences became possible by including office infrastructure, staff salaries and other costs in the conference budgets. Fundraising for initiatives and other activities between conferences allowed the IAS to expand its policy and programme staff and increase its capacity to contribute to policy development, advocacy and regional partnerships work between the international conferences. The move also allowed the IAS to streamline its growing online presence and IT platform to reach out to members, improve existing clear and transparent election procedures for the GC and its executive, and provide additional opportunities for communication through its online newsletter, email updates and other tools. IAS was unique in that it was a global NGO of individual members working professionally in HIV, growing from almost 6,000 members at the time of the move in 2004 to over 10,000 members in 2008.
By the time the 2006 conference was held in Toronto, the IAS Secretariat had a staff of 30, most of whom were working on the conference, allowing the organization to strengthen links between the conference and other global initiatives. The IAS Secretariat worked closely with the AIDS 2006 Toronto Local Host in the planning and implementation of the conference. The theme of the Toronto conference – Time to Deliver - reflected a growing sense in the AIDS field that, despite significantly increased resources and 25 years of accumulated evidence, the global response was still falling short in its efforts to curb the epidemic and care for those infected. Populist opinion and political expediency were too often winning the battle over scientific evidence, and global financing for HIV was still falling well short of the resources required to meet universal access targets. Gender inequity, homophobia and discrimination against sex workers and drug users continued to hamper prevention efforts, and the epidemic was growing quickly in regions such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Progress was beginning to be made, and with increased resources and political commitment, it was time to deliver.
The conference had an unprecedented number of high profile speakers, including Bill and Melinda Gates and US President Bill Clinton. They drew significant media attention to the conference and also a personal history of commitment to the global response through the work of their foundations. The Toronto conference was notable for its focus on female-controlled prevention technologies, including microbicides, cervical barriers and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). It was also the conference in which the issue of accountability, particularly political accountability in the response to AIDS, became a consistent refrain of speakers.
The IAS delivered skills-building workshops at AIDS 2006 in Toronto and at regional conferences, sponsored by its electronic journal, on how to write a manuscript for publication, and on building capacity for young investigators in writing abstracts and preparing effective conference presentations. The cross-disciplinary focus and participation of senior researchers as course instructors resulted in one of the most highly-evaluated initiatives organized by the IAS, and it continues to be refined and delivered at conferences.
In 2006, the IAS established a Regional Partnerships Department to strengthen its links and collaboration with the independent regional conferences and societies. It co-organized the first and second Eastern European and Central Asian AIDS Conferences in Moscow with the Russian Federation and AIDS Infoshare, along with UNAIDS and the Global Fund, advocating for opioid substitution therapy as part of a comprehensive package of harm-reduction approaches to that region’s burgeoning epidemic among injecting drug users. The IAS continues to expand its work with regional partners, both to strengthen information exchange and other links between the independent regional conferences and IAS conferences and to help translate scientific and programmatic evidence into action at the regional and national level.