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Women at an IAS conference

IAS conferences: How do we select a host city?

Purpose of the conference

Progress happens when science, policy and activism come together. This is why we unite the global HIV response around several conferences, including the International AIDS Conference, the world’s largest gathering for people living with and affected by HIV and all those working to address the HIV epidemic.

The conferences shift the latest evidence into action and accelerate the response to HIV across all continents and sectors.

Without this opportunity to come together, the HIV response would be hampered as there is no other gathering that plays such a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the HIV response.  

Convening science, policy and activism to chart the direction for the HIV response makes a world possible in which HIV no longer presents a threat to public health and individual well-being.

Selecting a host city

There are very few host cities that can accommodate a conference of the size of the International AIDS Conference, in particular, while adhering to all of the conditions detailed below. These are our considerations for selecting a conference host city:

Safeguarding the rights of our delegates, especially the most marginalized

The host city must, firstly, ensure equal treatment and a safe environment for people living with HIV where they can express themselves freely. HIV status must not be a hindrance to entering the country where the conference is hosted.

Secondly, many countries that don’t restrict entry still have harmful laws or policies that criminalize sex work or people who use drugs or discriminate against the freedoms of gender identity or sexual orientation. And many countries most affected by HIV are among those that criminalize key populations.

Advancing the local and the global response

IAS Conferences shine a spotlight on key challenges and successes in the HIV response. Therefore, we prioritize conference locations that may galvanize the local response and/or provide valuable lessons to the global response.

Meeting your health needs

Many of our attendees are immunocompromised or work closely with immunocompromised communities. We work hard to ensure high health and safety protocols for all delegates, staff and speakers. One of our primary concerns is that IAS conference attendees have healthcare available while they are away from home.

Meeting your infrastructure and access needs

International AIDS Conferences convene 15,000-20,000 participants and IAS Conferences on HIV Science 5,000-7,000 people. A host city must have a suitable venue that can support such large gatherings. We continuously monitor the development of new venues in all parts of the world.

Deeply concerned about the difficulties many delegates experienced entering Canada for AIDS 2022, we require assurances and details on steps potential host countries will take to ensure access for our delegates.

Also, the accommodation and travel infrastructure must enable large numbers of people to spend several days close to the venue and/or have safe and convenient travel infrastructure to access it from their accommodation.

Technological infrastructure with uninterrupted power supply and digital access is another important requirement to host seamless and virtually accessible conferences.

Remaining independent from outside pressure

To ensure that the programme is evidence-based, puts people first and critically examines the latest developments in and translation of science, the Organizing Committee must be able to operate independently. We work hard to create a committee that is representative of the HIV response and empower it to create a conference programme shielded from outside vetting or influencing. Finding a host government that supports and, indeed, promotes the independence of our conferences is non-negotiable.

Ensuring the longterm viability of the conference

To ensure that we are able to continue providing the platform that unites the global HIV response we must make each conference financially viable.  We strive to balance costs while reserving substantial funding for scholarships and programme participants. We have worked hard to increase the proportion of funding dedicated to relieving the financial burden on delegates by keeping registration costs for low- and middle-income participants low and increasing funding for scholarships.

Erika CastellanosIn recent discussions, much emphasis has been placed on the location of the host city, but we also need to consider the safety of marginalized groups as not all locations are equally welcoming to many of us.

Conference Committee member Erika Castellanos of Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE)

Ensuring an inclusive selection process

Representation is critical for an equitable HIV response. Everyone must have a seat at the table. Following a comprehensive review of the governance structure of its conferences, the IAS in 2021 established the IAS Conference Committee, which is responsible for the strategic planning of all major IAS conferences taking place over a four-year cycle. Three of seven seats on the IAS Conference Committee are reserved for representatives of civil society organizations. They join elected IAS officers and the IAS Executive Director.

Through their role on the IAS Conference Committee, our civil society partners strengthen community perspectives not only at the International AIDS Conference, but also at the IAS Conference on HIV Science and the HIV Research for Prevention conference. The civil society seats rotate every two conference cycles to ensure the widest possible participation of community voices.

 

Jessica WhitbreadSince deciding on where the conferences go requires weighing up many considerations, those deciding must represent our movement. For the greater part, these are individuals elected by the global IAS membership as well as community representatives from organizations such as GNP+, ICW and GATE. This ensures that the decisions on where we take the conferences represent the will of as broad a coalition as possible.

Conference Committee Member Jessica Whitbread of GNP+ and ICW

The IAS Conference Committee currently is composed of:

Glory Alexander
Glory Alexander

Glory Alexander

ASHA Foundation
India
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Erika Castellanos
Erika Castellanos

Erika Castellanos

Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE)
Netherlands
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Beatriz Grinsztejn
Beatriz Grinsztejn

Beatriz Grinsztejn

President-Elect
Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz)
Brazil
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Sharon Lewin
Sharon Lewin

Sharon Lewin

President
Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, University of Melbourne
Australia
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Kenneth Ngure
Kenneth Ngure

Kenneth Ngure

School of Public Health, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
Kenya
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Birgit Poniatowski
Birgit Poniatowski

Birgit Poniatowski

IAS Executive Director
International AIDS Society
Switzerland
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Jessica Whitbread
Portrait of Jessica Whitbread

Jessica Whitbread

GNP+ and ICW
Bulgaria
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  • Following consultation with the globally representative IAS Governing Council, the IAS Executive Board defines a target region four years in advance of the conference.
  • The IAS Secretariat issues a request for letters of interest from potential host cities in this region.
  • The IAS Conference Committee reviews letters of interest against these considerations and proposes a shortlist of three to four destinations to the IAS Executive Board.
  • Following IAS Executive Board decision, the IAS Secretariat invites full proposals from the shortlisted destinations.
  • The Conference Committee together with the Secretariat reviews full proposals and proposes one or two potential host cities to the EB for decision.

Once the location is confirmed, the IAS Conference Committee is expanded to include rotating representatives, which together constitute the Organizing Committee. The Organizing Committee is responsible for defining the theme and creating the programme of the conference.

Maximizing access to critical knowledge

A conference is only as good as the people it reaches and the change its shared research, best practices, policy and programmatic learnings and advocacy create. In the face of persistent global inequality, we safeguard access to critical knowledge in the following ways:

  1. Hybrid conferences

    We have invested significant resources in hybrid technology, ensuring that those unwilling or unable to attend in person have access to all sessions. We record and film every single conference session and make it freely accessible to the general public just two months after the conference (one month for IAS Members). This is to ensure that the often groundbreaking insights shared at our conferences reach as many people as possible to accelerate scientific discovery, inform policy and break down stigma.

  2. Scholarships

    To lessen the financial and logistical obstacles for many people most affected by HIV, we set aside up to 18% of the entire conference budget to enable free access, transportation and lodging, and data and hardware support for delegates attending remotely. These scholarships are granted to delegates living in low- and middle-income countries, as well as delegates with limited income living in high-income countries.

  3. IAS Educational Fund

    The IAS Educational Fund brings the latest and best in HIV science, presented at IAS conferences (and beyond), to local researchers and communities for adaptation and implementation in local languages. The most recent meetings took place in Tanzania, Chile, Indonesia, and Latvia.

  4. Cost of access

    To ensure that young people, students and people from low- and middle-income countries do not face insurmountable financial obstacles, our cheapest fees are some 90% lower than a regular full registration. All content becomes entirely free of access two months after the conference (one month for IAS Members).

An intentional regional rotation for all IAS conferences

Our conference site selection will not be business as usual. The in-person component of all our conferences will travel equally to all five defined regions – Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America – and will not be hosted consecutively in any region.

The target region of each conference will be decided by the IAS Executive Board following consultation with its globally representative Governing Council three years before each conference – this is how long a thorough and transparent site selection process takes.

In addition to adhering to a balanced and transparent rotation, we will strongly encourage bids from low- and middle-income countries. We are determined to support a global HIV response that leaves no one behind.