The 12th IAS Conference Upholds Brisbane's Position in the Fight Against HIV!

2nd Mar, 2023

The International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2023) will take place at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC) in July 2023, presenting a global focus for Australia’s evidence led approach to HIV, leading the world in the minimisation of infection rates.

BCEC together with local host organisation ASHM (Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine) submitted the winning bid to the International AIDS Society (IAS) to host its 2023 Conference, allowing Australia's key learnings in this area to be shared on a global scale. Organisers are anticipating that 6,000 members of the international research community at the forefront of HIV science, will attend the five-day on-site event, testifying to Australia's scientific excellence in the immunology and infectious disease space critical to Brisbane's choice as host city.

Holding the conference in Australia is intended to be an accelerator for the country to achieve its goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission by 2025, while also bringing an important focus of attention to the most vulnerable communities in the Asia-Pacific region. A number of scientists from leading Australian research institutes involved in the COVID-19 pandemic played an active role in securing the Brisbane HIV Science Conference, expanding the role of science in the areas of infectious disease and viral medicine to the conference.

Headquarters spoke to both sides of the issue (the host venue and the organising association) to understand the reasons for this partnership and the significant legacy for the Australian HIV research community, the whole country, the Asia-Pacific region and the world:

Alison Gardiner, Director of Sales at BCEC

1) What scientific and academic reasons led Brisbane to emerge victorious in the international competition for this conference. What was the secret sauce for this success?

Australia leads the world in the minimisation of HIV infection rates. It was our science excellence within the immunology and infectious diseases space that was key to the selection of Brisbane as the host city for what is the world’s largest and most influential HIV Sciences conference. The bid was underpinned by the strength of the science and record of Australia’s leadership in the elimination of the disease, and in the area of HIV cure research. It is Australia’s and Brisbane’ s objective to partner with IAS to create an outstanding HIV Science conference that will reflect current scientific knowledge and emerging science in the areas of HIV treatment, prevention, cure, ageing and obstacles to HIV elimination including stigma.

2) BCEC has a strong track record of supporting scientific collaboration and exchange through its highly successful Convention Advocates Partnership. Tell us more about this local partnership.

Just over a decade ago we set up the BCEC Convention Advocates Partnership, a form of “ambassador” programme, to recognise the internationally renowned leaders in sectors that are a priority for our government and our universities. We have 75 Advocates and a Patron, and together they have helped to bring over 135 conferences to Brisbane creating AU$190 million in economic impact for our city. The pride these local leaders have in supporting their city and ‘shining a light’ on the innovation in their sectors, has been inspirational. The partnership is known and highly regarded across the city, in our universities and within our state government as an example of successful collaboration between the Research & Development sector, industry and government.

"One of our key BCEC missions in life is to attract the right meetings to the right sectors within our innovation community."

3) What impact do you hope to bring to Brisbane with this mega-conference?

We are looking forward to the economic impact of having 6,000 HIV research experts visiting our city and experiencing the amazing quintessential Australian lifestyle and the world class infrastructure we enjoy here in Brisbane − but the follow-on benefits are so much more. The Australian impacts include: virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2025; free medications and clinical care for all people living with HIV in Australia; an agreed roadmap for addressing stigma; Australia, hoping to become a fast track country as part of a fast track global strategy to end the HIV, TB and Hepatitis B and C epidemics; decriminalisation of sex work in our home state of Queensland; furthering the national plan for Health Equity for First Nations peoples.

Regional impacts for our Asia Pacific neighbours include: Shining a spotlight on “at risk” communities from climate change; and a Regional Fellowship Programme to support scientists and clinicians across the region. As for the global impacts: COVID-19 learning and Adaption; and IAS HIV Science 2023 Indigenous Legacy Statement.

4) Do you believe that the conference of the future that aims to eradicate disease, save lives, and advance science will have to unequivocally include this virtuous triangle − people, government and experts in the field?

Absolutely, we do! One of our key BCEC missions in life is to attract the right meetings for the right sectors for government and our innovation community. It’s the win-win-win and most definitely the virtuous triangle with business events as a strategic and tactical vehicle for the international peak body, and the Australian community in that sector. Everyone wants positive impact. Together with our destination partner, Brisbane Economic Development Agency, we put in a great deal of time and effort to ensure that we bring a range of social, economic and environmental impact options to our clients choosing Brisbane. Now that the post-COVID recovery is well underway, we are doubling down together to look at new ways we can support international associations’ goals and United Nation Sustainable Development Goals in areas like public awareness, educational legacies, next generation engagement and policy change, to truly deliver optimal impact in hosting events in Brisbane.

Professor Charles Gilks, International AIDS Society 2023 Local Chair

1) What do you look for in a destination as a partner at this level?

We were looking for two features: the enthusiasm Brisbane showed in hosting this conference and showcasing what Brisbane has to offer as a world city for delegates and their accompanying partners. A very powerful offer was made that was clearly aimed at the whole city, far more than just hosting a major science conference at the convention centre.

"IAS aims to award hundreds of scholarships to young scientists and health leaders from the global south in HIV/AIDS"

2) How do you plan to spread the Australian example on a global scale and use your expertise within the conference to make that goal happen?

Brisbane will, on World AIDS Day 1st December 2022, sign “the Paris Declaration on Fast-Track Cities − ending the HIV epidemic” and then host a Fast Track cities workshop pre-conference to review progress made globally but with special reference to our Asia-Pacific region which has special issues and challenges to overcome. We also hope to have significant political engagement in the opening and closing ceremonies where there will be a renewed commitment to the HIV elimination agenda.

Complacency is a real threat to sustaining the efforts to elimination; those last parts can be very challenging and need special focus. We are planning several symposia that compare and contrast our responses to HIV and COVID-19, both nationally and globally; we will have a special session on pandemic preparedness to ensure that the learnings of what to do and how to do it are not forgotten as and when the next pandemic arises.

3) How do you intend to bridge the gap between representation from more developed countries and low and middle-income countries to ensure the scientific outreach drawn from the conference?

This is a perennial issue for IAS Science, as most of the resources for science and therefore most of the research is in the global north. IAS aims to award hundreds of scholarships to young scientists and health leaders from the global south in HIV/AIDS, and Brisbane will have as a specific legacy a particular focus on youth leadership in First Nations scientists, community and healthcare.

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