Monday’s sessions at the week-long XIX International AIDS Conference brought together policymakers, entertainers, doctors and global ambassadors of public health to champion the theme of this year’s event: “Turning the tide together.”

Twenty thousand people from more than 200 countries packed the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to communicate the status of the world HIV/AIDS epidemic. Sessions running simultaneously yesterday included speeches from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; philanthropist Bill Gates; and musician Elton John.

Bill Gates and Jim Yong Kim

Philanthropist Bill Gates (left) and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim spoke Monday at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Nicki Softness

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim provided opening remarks Sunday, saying “the AIDS fight has shown the world how to turn the tide of a massive assault on human life and dignity.” He highlighted programs such as the 3 by 5 Initiative, launched by UNAIDS and the WHO in 2003 to provide 3 million HIV/AIDS sufferers in low- and middle-income countries with life-prolonging treatment by the end of 2005.

In a session discussing HIV response and efficiency, Kerry compared HIV/AIDS prevention to the eradication of smallpox in 1979.

“Think of the price that the world would have paid if we had abandoned that fight halfway through,” Kerry said. “We need to remember that this is a matter of willpower; it is not a matter of capacity. Together, we will tear down the wall of AIDS.”

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby, former Lesotho Minister of Health Mphu Ramatlapeng and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined Gates, Kerry and Kim in the headlining session. Graham stressed bipartisan progress on HIV/AIDS in the U.S. during the past 10 years, adding that “Republicans in the Senate and the House have exceeded the request of President Obama for AIDS funding” in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Clinton announced that the U.S. is adding an extra $150 million to HIV prevention and treatment.

“I’ve heard a few voices from people raising questions about America’s commitment,” Clinton said. “We will not back off. We will not back down.”

John discussed the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a 25-year-old memorial created by the NAMES Project Foundation Inc. that honors more than 94,000 lives lost to AIDS. The quilt, which consists of more than 48,000 panels, is being displayed at more than 50 Washington, D.C., locations from July 21-25.

On the National Mall, volunteers read names of AIDS victims represented on the quilt. Rainbow PUSH Coalition representative Steve Smith spoke on behalf of organization president Jesse Jackson.

“He’s in Chicago and wished he could be here, but he made sure I was going to be here, on the Mall, all week,” Smith said. “For Rainbow PUSH, this reflects people that are part of the struggle that haven’t been identified appropriately in society.”