International AIDS Society President Françoise Barré-Sinoussi leads a memorial service for the victims of the Malaysian plane crash during the Opening Session. Photo Credit: International AIDS Society/Steve Forrest.

Ed. Note — From July 20-25, contributing writer Michael Harney, an educator with Asheville’s WNCAP, will provide short columns and thoughts from his trip to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Harney landed safely in Melbourne this weekend, as news spread of the loss of six AIDS researchers and organizers lost when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17. The incident killed all 295 people on board including International AIDS Society president and AIDS doctor Joep Lange; his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development; Pim de Kuijer of Stop AIDS Now; Lucie van Mens, director of AIDS Action Europe and Maria Adriana de Schutter, also of AIDS Action Europe; and Glenn Thomas, media coordinator for the Glenn Thomas, World Health Organization.

The International AIDS Society held a remembrance of the six victims during the conference’s opening ceremony on Sunday.

“Tonight, for the next minute, let our silence represent our sadness, our anger, and our solidarity,” International AIDS Society President Françoise Barre-Sinoussi said during the ceremony.

Some 12,000 people are expected to attend the International AIDS Conference.

Harney will check in with updates from time to time. His first, below, comes from a pre-conference event discussing AIDS efforts for gay men, men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people.

— Matt Comer, editor

Gay men, MSM and transgender people in the global AIDS response

MELBOURNE, Australia — On Saturday, July 19, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF) convened a gathering of several hundred MSM (men who have sex with men) from around the world to discuss efforts related to reducing HIV infection, disparities, stigma, and criminalization.

This two-day forum included transgender people again, making it only the second time such distinct inclusion has occurred for this long-standing pre-International AIDS Conference meeting.

Plenary presenters included Professor Peter Aggleton, from the University of New South Wales in Australia who cautioned that in order to “get to zero” new infections by 2030 we need to redouble efforts against stigma, and assure that our concepts of “community” are inclusive, and do not leave the most impacted populations behind.

JoAnne Keatley, Director at the University of California San Francisco Center for Excellence on Transgender Health stressed the disproportionate impact of HIV on the transgender population, citing a 2013 Lancet article with data from 15 countries showing the trans prevalence of HIV 48 times that of the cisgender population.

It was held at the Melbourne Townhall, a 19th-century setting only blocks away from the modern 66,000-square-foot convention facility where approximately 15,000 delegates from nearly 200 nations are gathering July 20-25 for the XX International AIDS Conference.

For more information visit and to follow the full conference visit

Michael Harney

Michael Harney is an educator with WNCAP (Western North Carolina AIDS Project), an HIV/AIDS advocate and supporter of Needle Exchange programs. He occasionally contributes his writings on various subjects...