|When the International AIDS Conference returned to Durban last year, Mark wrote the following message to all IAS Members to honour the occasion. This letter best highlights Mark’s warmth, fighting spirit and compassion:
When I look back on my career, I always feel that the most important contribution of my life was political and not scientific. In brief, I served as the Chair of the IAS site selection committee for conferences between 1995-1998 and was President of the IAS between 1998-2000. Together with colleagues, including David Cooper who preceded me as IAS President and Stefano Vella who succeeded me, we chose Durban, South Africa, as the venue for the International AIDS Conference in July 2000. We did this at a time that very few people in all of Africa (i.e., approximately 7000) had access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy in the hope that journalists would attend the conference and report on the terrible inequities in the world in regard to HIV/AIDS. Not only did this happen but a wide array of politicians also attended from all over the world. The result was that the conference, together with its slogan “Breaking the Silence”, helped to give birth to a multitude of international assistance programs for the purchase of ARVs, while also stimulating interest by international assistance organizations such as the Gates Foundation, among others.
A major drawback, however, was the opposition to the conference by then President Thabo Mbeki who had somehow become convinced that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and whose policies denied ARVs to South Africans infected by HIV. This prompted calls for a boycott of the Durban 2000 conference by many international scientists who, although well-intentioned, needed to be convinced that boycotting the conference would do far more harm than good. I am happy to have played a major role in these efforts while helping, together with Professor Jerry Coovadia and the Karims and others to organize the conference itself.