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The skyline of the city of Montreal, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The city has been chosen as the host city of the 2022 International AIDS Conference.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Montreal has been chosen as the host city of the 2022 International AIDS Conference, which is poised to be one of the first large scientific gatherings of the postpandemic era.

The biennial conference, which routinely draws tens of thousands of scientists, clinicians, patients and journalists from around the world, went virtual in 2020, but is planning a hybrid of in-person and virtual sessions in 2022 in recognition that many people in the world will likely not be vaccinated a year from now.

Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society, said the gathering, which will take place July 29 to Aug. 2, 2022, is essential to “get the HIV response back on track.”

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Like many global health issues, HIV/AIDS has taken a back seat to COVID-19, even though it remains a big killer, especially in the developing world, she noted.

“AIDS 2022 will be a pivotal moment to once more galvanize the scientific, policy and activist communities to push the response forward,” Dr. Kamarulzaman said. “We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of people we still lose to AIDS-related illnesses every year.”

To ensure people from low- and middle-income countries can participate, the IAS has create a scholarship program that will support in-person attendance, as well as the provision of internet data and devices for those with travel limitations.

An estimated 1.7 million people became infected with HIV and another 690,000 died of AIDS in 2019, the most recent year for which detailed data are available. There have been 168 million COVID-19 cases and almost 3.5 million deaths recorded since the pandemic began in January, 2020.

Jean-Pierre Routy, a professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, and local co-chair of the conference, said advances in COVID-19 science, particularly the rapid development of vaccines, have made it an “exciting time” for HIV research, policies and programs.

“Following COVID-19 vaccine discovery, we are closer than ever before to an effective HIV vaccine and even on a path toward a cure,” he said.

AIDS 2022 will mark the 24th International AIDS Conference since its inception in 1985, and the fourth time Canada has played host. The global scientific gathering was staged in Toronto in 2006, Vancouver in 1996, and Montreal in 1989.

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Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said holding the conference reflects Canada’s commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic.

“We know that there is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” she said in a statement. “By bringing together domestic and international partners, we can redouble our collective efforts to improve the health of all our citizens and finish the fight against HIV and AIDS.”

Globally, Canadian researchers are known for pioneering the “treatment as prevention” approach, and for its embrace of harm reduction programs such as supervised injection sites.

It is estimated that 75.7 million people have become infected with HIV since the beginning of the pandemic, and 32.7 million have died.

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