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: South African "Mentor Mothers" lower HIV infection rates among pregnant women

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

Obese British man in court fight for surgery

Jul 11, 2011

A British man weighing 22 stone (139 kilograms, 306 pounds) launched a court appeal Monday against a decision to refuse him state-funded obesity surgery because he is not fat enough.

2008 crisis spurred rise in suicides in Europe

Jul 08, 2011

The financial crisis that began to hit Europe in mid-2008 reversed a steady, years-long fall in suicides among people of working age, according to a letter published on Friday by The Lancet.

New food labels dished up to keep Europe healthy

Jul 06, 2011

A groundbreaking deal on compulsory new food labels Wednesday is set to give Europeans clear information on the nutritional and energy content of products, as well as country of origin.

Overweight men have poorer sperm count

Jul 04, 2011

Overweight or obese men, like their female counterparts, have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a comparison of sperm quality presented at a European fertility meeting Monday.

User comments : 0