Dr Birgit Poniatowski has been announced as the next Executive Director of IAS – the International AIDS Society. With more than 20 years of public health and international development experience, we sat down with Birgit who discussed her deep commitment to advancing the HIV response and the role of the IAS moving ahead.
What inspired you to work in HIV?
The HIV community is unique and inspires me every day. I saw the resilience of the HIV community early on in my career when I was working at the United Nations University in Tokyo. I was responsible for capacity-building programmes, which brought together people from all over the world for various trainings.
Some of our grantees living with HIV faced entry restrictions, mandatory HIV testing to travel to certain countries and even deportation. The resolve of people living with HIV in the face of such discriminatory policies and laws, which still exist today, stayed with me – to challenge, to care and to call for change.
Having experienced other areas of public health, it is truly remarkable how the HIV community is able to come together and unite as a force for change despite different geographies, backgrounds and opinions. It has been a privilege to work with the HIV community throughout my career and I know that you, IAS Members, will continue to inspire me for many years.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the HIV response faces? And how can the IAS help address them?
Despite the progress made in the HIV response, challenges remain. Sustaining the HIV response will be critical in a period when donors and governments have reduced funding as other priorities, including COVID-19, take hold.
Prevention remains the Achilles heel of the HIV response. We know that this is largely due to the epidemic of stigma and discrimination, which remains an insurmountable barrier for many people across the world in accessing HIV services.
AIDS fatigue, challenges to democracy and multilateralism and the advent of other global crises, such as climate change, all make it much harder for the HIV community to be clearly heard. The IAS will double down on clear, crisp messaging that pools the voices of science, of policy and of people living with HIV.
The IAS will continue to promote science, advocate for this science to become policy and empower the HIV community with the skills, resources and scientific knowledge needed to make meaningful change and take action.
Science. Action. People. All three are central to the IAS approach.
What can IAS Members look forward to in 2021?
The year 2021 marks 40 years since the discovery of HIV. A special IAS HIV at 40 podcast series, featuring voices from science, policy and community, will tell the story of HIV from the beginning and highlight the scientific gaps that persist. Early in the year we will be sharing our new IAS 2021-2025 strategy which will help focus our collective efforts on ensuring an effective, evidence-informed HIV response.
A number of conferences this year will offer the latest, cutting-edge science. HIVR4P // Virtual and the IAS COVID-19 Conference: Prevention in January and February will kickstart the year. Then we have IAS 2021 – the 11th IAS Conference on HIV Science – to look forward to in July
Throughout the year, the IAS will continue to provide training opportunities to HIV professionals through regional IAS Educational Fund meetings. IAS Programmes will support action with the launch of a new initiative addressing stigma, an innovative youth leadership hub, grants for the next generation of HIV researchers and clinicians, and virtual workshops assessing challenges in the HIV vaccine field to name a few.
An exciting year is ahead of us. I look forward to working and engaging with you as we drive urgent action to reduce the impact of HIV, together.
Read the official announcement from IAS President Adeeba Kamarulzaman here.