AIDS2008Logo_203x231_v5From August 3rd-7th, more than 21,000 researchers, public health leaders, and advocates flocked to Mexico City for the XVII International AIDS Conference. The five-day conference provided a crucial opportunity for worldwide leaders in the fight against AIDS to gather, present new research, generate heated discussions, and share best practices.

In plenary sessions and research presentations, experts drew attention to recent troubling figures published by UNAIDS: 45 percent of new infections occur among young people aged 15-24, and 2.7 million people were infected with HIV in 2007 alone. For every two patients that started antiretroviral therapy in 2007, five more became infected with HIV.

“It is for the benefit of our boys and girls, adolescents and the youth, for the new generations,” declared Mexican Minister of Health José Ángel Córdova Villalobos at the opening ceremony, “that we must strengthen education for prevention.” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot added, “HIV prevention now requires the same level of passion and activism that have driven the successful movement for treatment.”

With the 2010 World Cup approaching in South Africa, Grassroot Soccer is ready to drive that passion for prevention – reaching hundreds of thousands of youth with evidence-based HIV/AIDS education, engaging young adults as role models and leaders in their communities’ fight against HIV, and using the world’s most popular sport to unite young people with a vision for an HIV-free generation.

GRS had a small but powerful presence at the conference. Ian Oliver from AED and Jeff DeCelles from GRS and the Harvard School of Public Health co-led a satellite session called “The Beautiful Game: Using the Power and Popularity of Soccer to Engage Young People in HIV Prevention and Life Skills Training.” The session – sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, a major supporter of the Nawa Sport program in Namibia – touched on the history, theory, and dissemination of the Grassroot Soccer activities-based HIV prevention model. The crowd enjoyed stories from Zimbabwe to Ethiopia to Namibia before participating in a live demonstration of a GRS activity and a Q&A session that touched on partnerships, evaluation strategies, and gender norms.

The next day, GRS Director of Research and Advocacy Zak Kaufman presented original research in a poster discussion panel entitled “Scaling Up HIV Prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Out of nearly 11,000 submitted abstracts, Zak’s was one of about 200 selected for oral poster presentation. Despite speaking at the same time as President Clinton, he spoke to a packed room on the effectiveness of the GRS model in Haitian migrant communities in the Dominican Republic.