More than 3,000 health experts, advocates and activists from over 60 countries gathered in Bali, Indonesia in August 2009 for the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). The event aimed to discuss efforts towards universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, care and support – including for people who use drugs – and called for a strengthened commitment from governments and donors despite the pressures of the global economic crisis. The theme for ICAAP9 was ‘Empowering People, Strengthening Networks’.

The goal of universal access was set in the ‘Declaration of Commitment’ adopted at the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in 2001, and reaffirmed by a ‘Political Declaration’ in 2006. Mr JVR Prasada Rao, Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team, Asia and the Pacific, delivered a speech on behalf of UNAIDS Executive Director, Mr Michel Sidibé, calling for the establishment of enabling environments and supportive social norms necessary to deliver a future generation free of HIV.  He told delegates that “more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV in Asia each day”, and urged that “We must transform the AIDS response in Asia so that it works for people, and especially for people who have been marginalised and without a voice” – including sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users. He added that “most infections could have been averted if only we had invested in reaching populations at higher risk and their partners – at a cost of less than half a US dollar per person”.

The Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Professor Michel Kazatchkine, also addressed delegates and said “it is time for the G20 – which is 85 percent of the world’s economy – to come into the circle of donors” in order to help expand the global AIDS funding. He pointed to countries such as Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa, who “play more political leadership roles [and] have to enter into the global solidarity effort when it comes to health”.

The ICAAP event also featured discussions on key topics such as the decriminalisation of drug use, the high rates HIV and hepatitis C co-infection, compulsory treatment in Asia, and youth leadership on HIV issues. There was also a meeting of AIDS Ambassadors to discuss the mobilisation of funds and commitments, and accountability in the global responses to HIV. A pre-congress forum was also held for people who use drugs to discuss issues such as the decriminalisation of drugs, the human rights of people who use drugs, and issues around drug policy reforms.

Read articles from the Key Correspondents who were reporting from the conference:

Hepatitis C: A challenge among injecting drug users who are living with HIV

Criminalization of drug use: Is it a solution to end the war on drugs?