Africa: WHO Director-General’s Keynote Speech At the 12th International Aids Society Conference On HIV Science – 23 July 2023

The honourable Mark Butler,

IAS President Professor Sharon Lewin,

Professor Charlie Gilks,

Alegra Wolter,

Dear colleagues and friends,

A very good evening to all delegates in Brisbane, and to those joining online.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Meanjin, the land on which you are meeting, and I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

I thank the city of Brisbane and the governments of Queensland and Australia for hosting this conference, and Queensland Positive People, for bringing the vital voices of people living with HIV to this meeting.

And I honour the memory of the six delegates who lost their lives on their way to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne nine years ago – including our own WHO colleague, Glenn Thomas.


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization.

WHO was founded on a simple but powerful idea: that health is a fundamental right of all people.

When our constitution came into force in 1948, HIV was still unknown.

But since it was first identified more than 40 years ago, that same principle – the right to health – together with the power of science and the voices of affected communities – has been at the heart of the response to HIV.

The advances we have made have not only turned the tide on HIV, they have supported the response to many other diseases, including COVID-19 and mpox.

We welcome the important advances that will be presented at this meeting across the spectrum of basic, clinical, prevention, social and behavioural, and implementation science.

WHO will also share updates on our work with communities to improve prevention, testing, treatment and care;

On the role of antiretroviral therapy in halting sexual transmission;

On understanding how best to treat the various health challenges that affect people with advanced HIV disease;

And on how to strengthen health systems, based on a primary health care approach that delivers services, empowers communities and works across sectors.

We will also share new analyses on HIV and COVID-19, and another that demonstrates a clear relationship between HIV and mpox, along with research reinforcing how communities were central in addressing the mpox outbreak.

Science, human rights and community engagement have brought us so far.

New data from UNAIDS and WHO released last week show how countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have already achieved the 95-95-95 targets, and at least 16 others are close to doing so.

I also congratulate Australia for the incredible progress it has made, and for its commitment to eliminating HIV transmission.

I commend the leadership of the honourable minister, Mark Butler, in driving this initiative alongside Australia’s community, clinical and research partners.

More countries all over the world are preparing for validation of the elimination of vertical transmission of HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B.

Despite this encouraging progress, many real challenges remain.

Financing remains precarious, while many high burden countries are still overly reliant on external support.

New infections and deaths falling, but not fast enough.

And some countries and communities are experiencing rising HIV incidence.

At the same time, we face a world of multiple overlapping crises, including conflict, migration, climate change – which have implications for the response to HIV, especially for fragile and small island states.