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July 12, 2012

AIDS2012 Conference, July 22-27 -- Washington DC or Anywhere

By John S. James

AIDS2012, the XIX International AIDS Conference, happens this month, July 22-27, 2012, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend. AIDS2012, organized by the International AIDS Society ( and many others, is the largest AIDS gathering in the world. It takes place in different countries, every two years.

Below are some online information sources that can help you follow the conference news, whether you are at the meeting or not.

[Note: in case you happen to be in the Washington area but not attending the conference officially, one part of the conference, the Global Village, is free and open to the public this year. About 250 AIDS-related organizations from around the world will be presenting there, so you can probably find people you want to meet. While there are likely to be scheduled presentations within the global village, it is mainly a place for informal discussions. (See below for how to participate in these and other discussions even if you are far from Washington.)]

All the sites in this article are publicly accessible (although parts of the official site can only be visited by persons attending the conference, who log in with their conference credentials).

Of the hundreds of sites that will report news from the conference and would be worth listing here, we picked just a handful that are most important for our readers to know about.

Official Conference Site:

When looking at all the dozens of items and links available on the home page, don't overlook the navigation bar at the top, with links to the official conference blog, and to the Global Village (plus the youth program, and the media center).

The U.S. government's AIDS blog,, has an entry listing the official partners of the IAS for this conference. For the full list, see Some of the partner organizations:
 * The Kaiser Family Foundation will provide official coverage of the conference, including video of some of the major sessions, and daily news reports. For more information see
 * For basic science news reporting, Science magazine ( is a good place to start, especially Jon Cohen's articles on AIDS.
[But like too many science and medicine journals, some of the articles are for sale for prohibitive individual prices (at profit margins we estimate at 100,000% or greater, compared to the cost of online delivery -- note that the journals seldom pay for any of the research being reported). To see the full text, you need to be rich or be part of an institution such as a university. Usually anyone can see at least an abstract or summary of research article, and sometimes the full text is made free as well. And some some material is free, but only to registered users (registration is free).]
 * The same is true for the Lancet, a medical journal that is also one of the official partners. The Lancet published a number of AIDS articles shortly in advance of the conference, at Publishing in advance is helpful, since interested persons can read the new information ahead of time and use it to inform many discussions at the meeting.
 * POZ/Aidsmeds (, and Aidsmap (, are two other conference partners with excellent news coverage on AIDS, written for persons with AIDS and the interested public. Check their conference coverage before, during, and after AIDS2012.
 * For religious information, check the Interfaith pre-conference meeting,  (This page was hard to find from the main page, which may explain why there were no comments as of early July.)

Satellite Sessions

For officially recognized satellite sessions (both non-commercial, and commercial) see:
Sometimes the public can go to these; sometimes a conference badge is required.

Non-Official Sites (not officially connected with the conference)

Of hundreds of news and other sites, we note three:
 AIDS2012 Reunion,  A new organization, focused entirely on this conference for now.
 Project Inform, One of the first AIDS treatment information organizations, still doing excellent AIDS treatment news coverage.
 NATAP (National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project),, especially for important technical/scientific information.

For more conference coverage, you can do a Google search such as:
"aids conference" 2012
This search finds about 2,000,000 pages on this and other conferences -- fortunately listed by Web popularity. The official pages are organized at the top of the search results, quickly followed many non-official websites and page -- so you don't need to scroll through hundreds of official pages first.

Using Twitter to Find Conference Coverage

You don't need a Twitter account. Just go to and search for whatever interests you. Twitter shows what's going on now, not going far back into the past. Note: Twitter's search will probably show you the "Top" tweets, but let you choose "All" -- which you probably do want to choose. Also note that Google no longer works for finding tweets; Twitter unfortunately revoked Google's access a year ago, to improve its own search instead.

You can search for #aids2012 (best to include the hash mark). This "hash tag" was suggested by the conference, to use in the text of tweets (Twitter messages) in order to bring them to the attention of people searching for information about the conference. But anyone with a Twitter account can use this hash tag in their tweets -- so be aware that spam or misinformation could also be sent this way.

The Global Village is tweeting officially from @gvaids2012 (no one else can send FROM that Twitter address). We haven't seen anyone using the similar hash tag #gvaids2012 as of early July (note the hash mark punctuation instead of the at-sign), but we recommend it and think people will be using it during the conference and a little before. Anyone with a Twitter account can send a tweet from their phone or computer with this hash tag in it, immediately and without waiting for anyone's approval -- a good way to share news instantly within or about the Global Village (as well as with the rest of the world). And if the people running the official @gvaids2012 account like some of these messages, they can re-tweet them to all followers of @gvaids2012 (whether or not those followers ever search for the hash tag). So using a name in this way (with the'@' from the owner of the Twitter account exclusively, and the '#' for the hash tag that anyone can use) gives both an official and an unofficial channel on the subject (the Global Village of AIDS2012, in this case).

Note that anyone in the world can discuss the AIDS2012 conference on Twitter -- no need to be in Washington. (Well, not anyone; some countries ban Twitter.) You do not need a Twitter account nor any prior knowledge to search recent tweets at, e.g. for #aids2012, or for the Global Village. You do need a Twitter account to send your own tweets, and also to follow others' Twitter accounts (meaning  to receive all the tweets they send).

Each tweet can only have 140 characters -- basically a short sentence. But about a dozen of the 140 can optionally be used for a Web link, so the tweet can tell you about something quickly, and let you click for more information if you want. As of July 11, 2012,m a new tweet is being sent about every two minutes during the workday Washington time, usually pointing you to more information on the Web, and also at the conference.

A major advantage of Twitter is that you can look things up by searching (either for a hash tag, or just for a word in the tweet), and then connect with people who share a mutual interest, whom you might never otherwise have met.

Conferences of the Future

The bottom line is that you can virtually attend AIDS2012, and have input, even if you are thousands of miles from Washington. We believe that conferences will and should continue to evolve in this direction. Eventually the lectures presenting scientific, medical, and other information will be largely online, with important results released any time they are ready, not held up for arbitrary conference or publication dates. Online (or DVD) presentations are better educationally than lectures in auditoriums, since everyone can see the slides and hear the speakers, can rewind if necessary, and can consult outside materials easily. Why should scientific and medical research reports be tied to the great expense of air travel, hotels, and conference admission?

Future physical meetings will be for persons who need to meet face-to-face with particular working groups and individuals. Based on past experience of online communication actually increasing physical meetings, these better-focused conferences could be even larger than the ones today. For those who can travel abroad it will be better to make one international trip to take care of most of one's global meeting needs, than to make separate trips. And for those who cannot travel, online and DVD information will be much better than it is today -- and more important than the physical meetings that are hundreds of times more expensive.

Researching HIV in WikiLeaks Cables

By John S. James

All 251,287 WikiLeaks "Cablegate" cables have now been released (apparently by opponents of Assange). They are searchable, and 'HIV' is mentioned in 1534 of them. While 107 cables are tagged 'HIV', many other relevant cables are not.

Several specialized search engines will search this huge archive for whatever you want. We used for this article. (Apparently the full text of the cables is indexed in Google, though not in Bing.)

To try CableDrum yourself, visit the site and type HIV into the "Search text" box, then click the Search button. A search might take half a minute or so, but then you should see the Subject of the first 25 of the 1534 cables containing 'HIV'. To read the full text of the cable, click the "Reference ID" on the left of the Subject line.

For this article we decided to look at two issues:
  • What was the U.S. reaction as it became clear that Australia was doing much better than the U.S. in AIDS prevention -- apparently due mainly to very different policies on needle exchange?
  • How did the U.S. embassies see PEPFAR (President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief), the outstandingly successful U.S. program to make AIDS treatment available on a large scale to poor countries that otherwise had very little access?
Our research is incomplete, and presented mainly to show you how to use the cable database.

Australia and Needle Exchange

"[Needle exchange programs] have played a vital role in helping prevent the spread of blood-borne illnesses in Australia, according to Paul Dessaur of WASUA. 'In Australia, for instance, the rate of HIV amongst injecting drug users is less than 1 percent, and that is unheard of, and it's purely because we introduced these programs way back in 1986,' he said." [2012,]

We don't have a comparable U.S. figure for the infection rate among IDUs, but it is probably well over 10 times higher.

Our search for HIV and Australia as tags found nothing. A search for:
HIV Australia
in the full text found 79 cables. Most of them were unrelated, so we tried:
Australia hiv "syringe exchange"
with no result. But:
Australia hiv "needle exchange"
found one result,, which is relevant (one of only two we've found so far). It described Russia's chief medical officer as "positive about needle exchange
programs, saying that they were proving effective."

Searching for
Australia "needle exchange"
(no need to mention HIV) found 7 results, including the above, plus another relevant cable (, also dated 2009, referred to the "new USG [United States Government] position: support for needle exchange programs as a method to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and for medication-assisted therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment protocol against narcotic addiction, and continued USG opposition to the term 'harm reduction'." 

What we have not yet done is to read through all the cables mentioning just "needle exchange", "syringe exchange", or with a tag HIV (about 150 cables in all), to find anything that may be relevant.

But already it seems fairly clear already that there is no acknowledgement or discussion of Australia's success with needle exchange anywhere in the text of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks. Any such cable would almost certainly include the word 'Australia', and either 'needle exchange' or 'syringe exchange', and we checked all of those cables.

PEPFAR Success

Our work on this search is less complete. Much more remains to be done.

There is no tag for 'PEPFAR' (which seems odd), but the word appears in 587 of the cables. The next step might be to read all places where 'PEPFAR' appears in these cables, to see what is interesting. This would exclude the cable about checking whether the 20 telephones in a new PEPFAR office were working correctly -- and those with only general statement of good intentions, such as:
"USG-Nigeria PEPFAR team submitted the 2010 annual Country Operation Plan (COP) to the Global AIDS Coordinator January 29. The plan builds a partnership for sustainability with the Nigerian Government to continue strengthening ongoing service delivery to patients; renew focus on health systems strengthening; and align activities with the Nigerian National Strategic Framework for HIV-AIDS, 2010-2015. The Plan will also intensify and focus prevention efforts; deepen integration of HIV-AIDS response into the broader health care system; strengthen the health care system at all levels; and expand access to quality services. USAID's proposed FY2010 PEPFAR budget is 249.9 million dollars."

The Surprise

What most surprised us is the lack of perspective in the diplomatic world -- how little attention and actual thinking concern HIV, an epidemic that has killed tens of millions of people including half a million in the U.S. Vastly more attention goes into the drug war -- a shooting war which, in its current form, started a century ago in the U.S., and has been a continuous failure ever since. It still has no victory in sight, only more of the same. The basic flaw may be the same as in other U.S. shooting wars -- the lack of any sane or real mission, since the actual purpose of the war is to create financial opportunities for corporations, contractors, careerists, and other well-placed special interests.

A fundamental problem is that perspective and thinking are dangerous in diplomatic (and other government or corporate) careers; those who think may not last. In theory the thinking will be done at higher levels, but the system is too corrupt for that. So major institutions proceed like zombies, decade after decade and century after century, with results that we see every day.