Posted by: davidjolson | 07/17/2011

What reporters should be covering in Rome

ROME — For the first time ever, the International AIDS Society put on a media training and briefing in advance of one of its annual conferences – in this case the Sixth IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, which opens here today.

Basically, it was a primer for reporters to navigate this highly scientific and technical conference — even more scientific and technical than the much larger conferences which take place in even-numbered years (Vienna in 2010; Washington in 2012) — but it also provided an advance look at what are expected to be the big stories at this conference worthy of media attention, or should be.

We got perspectives on this from two very different sources — a journalist and a scientist.

The journalist, Bob Meyers, president of the National Press Foundation, sees the following issues as great stories for journalists:

  • For science writers, the microbicidal gel research, such as the CAPRISA study, which was the biggest story to come out of last year’s Vienna International AIDS Conference.
  • For non-science writers, HIV/AIDS’ transition from a death sentence to a chronic disease, and how health systems respond.
  • mHealth (mobile health)
  • HIV/AIDS co-infection with tuberculosis, malaria and viral hepatitis
  • Mental health
  • Campaign for a cure
  • Male circumcision
  • Stigma
  • Decline of HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe
  • Non-communicable diseases and their links with HIV/AIDS
  • How much it will cost to sustain every person with HIV on medicines for the rest of their lives
  • Task shifting in hot spots with few physicians

The scientist, Jacques Normand, director of the AIDS Research Program of the National Institute of Drug Abuse of the National Institute for Health, had a shorter, but not dissimilar list:

  • Implementation science
  • “Seek, Test, Treat and Retain,” which he clarified as treatment as prevention (and he recommended a Tuesday session on “Treatment as Prevention: Report Back from Vancouver Workshop”).
  • “Towards an HIV cure,” and he recommended the Wednesday morning plenary of the same name.

My own sense is that “treatment as prevention” and microbicides will be the biggest stories coming out of this conference, both because they are the current bright spots in HIV prevention and because recent research has been published on both interventions.

But I hope that reporters go beyond treatment as prevention and microbicides — very important stories that everyone will be covering — and look into other angles, such as male circumcision, stigma, cost implications, co-infection with other diseases and non-communicable diseases. These are the stories that don’t get the coverage they deserve, and reporters can distinguish themselves by examining these relatively unexamined stories.

The other problem in getting these stories covered is the fact that this conference doesn’t attract many reporters. Although I have participated in several of the larger AIDS conferences, this is my first time at one of these smaller ones, and I was surprised yesterday to see how small the media center here is — roughly a tenth the size of the media centers at the larger conferences. So media coverage of AIDS and associated health issues is not just a problem of quality, but also of quantity.


  1. I’d suggest adding functional cure research. Nature Magazine called last year’s functional cure satellite symposium “the quiet buzz” of the World AIDS Congress in Vienna. This year the event will focus on 3 therapeutic vaccines and a monoclonal antibody. These products represent a potential next generation of treatments that could eliminate the need (and cost) of daily antiretrovirals – cytotoxic agents. Room MR3 Tuesday 7:00am to 8:30am.

    One story up on this on CNN’s blog at:

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