Drugs, microbicide gel, money top issues at AIDS meet

Jul 18, 2010 by Richard Ingham

A global AIDS forum was getting underway here on Sunday, with major announcements expected over six days on the drugs that have turned HIV from killer to a chronic but manageable disease, and the quest for a virus-thwarting gel.

Overshadowing the long-awaited meeting, though, are renewed worries on raising billions of dollars to help sustain the war on a nearly 30-year-old epidemic.

Thousands of scientists, policymakers, grassroots campaigners and activists flooded into the Vienna congress centre for pre-conference seminars ahead of a ceremonial start in the evening.

The global confab is set to catapult anti-HIV drugs, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), to a new level of importance.

Around five million people around the world are alive today thanks to this therapy, which emerged in 1996 and initially was so expensive that it was restricted to rich nations.

In one of the first presentations, a panel of US scientists issued recommendations on Sunday for earlier use of ART, saying patients treated before their immune system is badly damaged by the () faced a lesser risk of death and sickness.

On Tuesday, researchers unveil the results from a South African trial where women volunteers tested a prototype anti-HIV gel.

The search for a vaginal microbicide has been one of the most daunting challenges in the history of AIDS.

The goal is to provide women, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the world's HIV infections occur, with a means other than the condom to protect themselves against the pathogen.

Meanwhile, worries about money -- an issue that went into retreat in recent years -- are returning, say veterans of the war against AIDS.

This year, 25 billion dollars has to be mustered for fighting AIDS in poorer countries, according to a UNAIDS estimate. So far, there is a funding shortfall of 11.3 billion, according to an analysis published last week in the US journal Science.

That means a 2006 vow by UN members to provide "universal access" to HIV drugs, prevention, treatment and care by the end of 2010 is set to become one more headline-making political promise that fell flat.

Kevin Frost, chief executive of a major US NGO, Amfar, said there were signs traditional donors were "flatlining" in financial support at a time when funding needed to rise to treat the always-rising number of infected people.

Increasing costs, coupled with the need in many countries to tighten belts, are stirring a sense "just short of panic," Frost told AFP.

"I get the sense that they're saying, 'we didn't know what we were getting into'" by committing to support lifelong treatment, he said.

The Vienna meeting, for which 20,000-25,000 people have registered, is the 18th International AIDS Conference. The meetings are held every two years.

Other major issues at the meeting include the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Europe, where the pandemic is accelerating, especially among intravenous drug users, and the theme of human rights.

VIPs include former US president Bill Clinton and Microsoft philanthropist Bill Gates, both rostered to speak on Monday, as well as rock star Annie Lennox, who will stage a concert on Tuesday.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) has claimed more than 25 million lives since the disease first came to light in 1981, a toll that oustrips the fatalities of World War I.

At least 33 million people are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a microbe that causes by destroying the immune system and exposing the body to opportunistic disease. The tally of new infections is rising by around 2.7 million a year, according to UN figures for 2008.

Explore further: Animal study provides first evidence that gel can prevent multiple virus transmission in vagina/rectum

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

AIDS: No vaccine after 25 years

Jul 17, 2006

After 25 years and billions of research dollars the world's scientists have been unable to develop a vaccine that provides immunity against AIDS.

Study: Fewer HIV/AIDS cases in India

Dec 04, 2007

The 2007 figures for the world's human immunodeficiency virus/AIDS epidemic include a significant reduction in the number of infected people in India.

UN: HIV outbreak peaked in 1996

Nov 24, 2009

(AP) -- The number of people worldwide infected with the virus that causes AIDS - about 33 million - has remained virtually unchanged for the last two years, United Nations experts said Tuesday.

WHO: Treat HIV patients sooner

Nov 30, 2009

(AP) -- People infected with the virus that causes AIDS should start treatment earlier than currently recommended, the World Health Organization said Monday.

Recommended for you

HIV+ women respond well to HPV vaccine

Apr 16, 2014

HIV-positive women respond well to a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), even when their immune system is struggling, according to newly published results of an international clinical trial. The study's findings ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.