The Sixth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2011) opened on Sunday night in Rome amid great excitement, with scientific leaders proclaiming that the conference will be a landmark moment in the history of HIV research.
“We are at a scientific watershed in the global AIDS
response,” said IAS 2011 International Chair and International AIDS Society
President Elly Katabira.
“We have witnessed two years of significant
biomedical advances, the likes of which we have not seen since the
antiretroviral breakthroughs of the mid-1990s.”
“The excitement around these advances in research – whether they be the CAPRISA 004 vaginal gel, the HPTN 052 study on treatment as
prevention, talk around the path towards a cure, or the encouraging signs on
PrEP and vaccines – is very much driving the debates and discussions that we
are going to see in Rome over the next few days.”
Over 5000 delegates are gathered in Rome this week
for the year’s largest scientific meeting on AIDS, after two months of stunning
In May, results from a trial of antiretroviral
treatment of the HIV-positive partners in couples where one partner was
uninfected showed that early treatment reduced the risk of infection by 96%.
“We have to remember that history will judge us not by our scientific breakthroughs, but how we apply them,” Michel Sidibé
Last week, results from two studies were released,
showing that when people without HIV infection take one or two antiretroviral
drugs (either tenofovir or tenofovir in combination with emtricitabine), the
risk of becoming infected with HIV is reduced by somewhere between 62% and 78%,
depending on the drugs used and how consistently they are taken.
And in early June, buoyed by the results of the 'treatment as prevention' study, governments meeting together at the United
Nations in New York agreed a target of expanding antiretroviral treatment to
reach 15 million of those in need by 2015.
But the key challenge will be how to make these
breakthroughs available in such a way that they perform just as well when
scaled-up to millions of people, and how to fund them.
“We have to remember that history will judge us not by our scientific
breakthroughs, but how we apply them,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director
of UNAIDS, speaking at the opening ceremony.
Dr Katabira, who was one of the first doctors to treat AIDS patients in
Uganda, said that while the chances of stopping the HIV pandemic have “just got
enormously better, the challenges have got bigger. In our part of the world
proof is not enough.”
“If politicians continue to think we can do small things here and small
things there, we will not do it.”
Michel Sidibé said: “Sceptics are saying that expanding treatment is
risky and unsustainable. What is truly risky, truly unsustainable, is waiting
“We pay now, or we pay forever!” he added.
But he pointed to the fact that domestic contributions to funding the
cost of the AIDS response, and higher burden countries, now accounted for 53%
of all funding.
A radical mismatch now existed on the donor front, he went on, between
the biggest donors such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and other
wealthy countries which gave next to nothing to support the Global Fund to
Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other programmes.
Italian activists were critical of host country Italy, for its failure
to live up to its promises on AIDS.
“The promises of our Prime Minister to contribute to the Global Fund
since 2009 are totally failed. Italy owes $290 million,” said Filippo von
Schloesser of the Italian HIV activist network Nadir ONLUS.
He also accused the Italian government of seeking to undermine the
concept of harm reduction in United Nations negotiations, at a time when
international agencies leading the fight against HIV are trying to persuade
countries in Eastern Europe and Asia of the importance of harm reduction
methods for limiting the HIV epidemic among injecting drug users.
The International AIDS Society conference runs until
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This news report is also available in French.