Despite Progress, World Still Failing HIV Carriers

SYDNEY ~ The global community has not done enough to prevent the spread of HIV and millions of deaths from preventable disease are a “shameful failure,” said the head of the International AIDS Society.

Society president Pedro Cahn was speaking ahead of the first session of the fourth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Sydney this week.

Cahn said 11,000 people were still contracting HIV each day despite the huge advances in knowledge of and treatments for the virus.

He said fewer than a third of those living with HIV in low and middle income countries were treated with life-saving medication and even fewer could access proven prevention methods such as condoms and clean syringes.

“Science has given us the tools to prevent and treat HIV effectively,” he said.

“The fact that we have not yet translated this science into practice is a shameful failure on the part of the global community.”

The Sydney conference brings together more than 5,000 delegates to discuss cutting-edge treatments for HIV, including two new classes of drugs that could give hope to those who have developed a resistance to existing retroviral drugs.

It will also look at prevention strategies such as male circumcision, which has proven effective in limiting the spread of the virus.

And under its Sydney Declaration it will push for governments and donors to allocate an additional 10 percent of their HIV program funding to research to ensure that projects are effective.

“We are badly in need of research that will tell us what impact our programs are having in the areas of the world where 90 percent of the epidemic is focused, and how to adjust our programs to make the best use of our investment and to save as much lives as possible,” Cahn said at the opening of the conference.

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, speaking before the conference opened, said there was cause for hope in the fight against the disease because of the successes of the past two decades.

In 2001, only several hundred thousand people living with HIV in the developing world had access to retroviral treatments but the current figure was now 2.2 million people, he said.

“This is far beyond what most of us thought was possible,” he added.

Kazatchkine said as well as the encouragement from the development of new drugs, there was also hope because the world was coming together to fight health problems as never before.

He said the scourge of AIDS had demonstrated that “we cannot have development and prosperity when AIDS is killing large parts of the population and eroding human capital.”

But he said despite the Global Fund so far raising some US$11 billion, the main challenge to fighting the HIV epidemic was resources.

“We need more resources, but we also need more sustainable resources,” he said.

Key adviser to the US government, Doctor Anthony Fauci, said there were now extraordinary treatments for those who have access to the right medicines.

But he also acknowledged the gap in access. “As great as those advancements are … we still now are treating only about 28 percent of the people who actually need therapy,” he said.

He said prevention strategies such as male circumcision were essential to combat the disease because of the huge gap in the provision of drugs.

An estimated 40 million people are now living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, while more than 25 million people are thought to have died from the disease.

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