G8 leaders must keep their AIDS promises, IAS conference told

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G8 leaders must meet their commitments to finance universal access to treatment and prevention despite the economic crisis, activists and scientists told the opening session of the Fifth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Cape Town tonight.

Professor Julio Montaner, President of the International AIDS Society rebuked international leaders for their failure to deliver on the promise of universal access to treatment and prevention made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005.

“The UK put AIDS on the G8 agenda, we call on the UK to keep it on the G8 agenda …We must hold the G8 leaders accountable for their failure to deliver on their promises. It is rather incredible that the United States, the country saddled with the worst of the fiscal crisis, remains the only one of the G8 that has met its stated fiscal commitments.

Glossary

toxicity

Side-effects.

pathogenesis

The origin and step-by-step development of disease.

middle income countries

The World Bank classifies countries according to their income: low, lower-middle, upper-middle and high. There are around 50 lower-middle income countries (mostly in Africa and Asia) and around 60 upper-middle income countries (in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean).

mother-to-child transmission (MTCT)

Transmission of HIV from a mother to her unborn child in the womb or during birth, or to infants via breast milk. Also known as vertical transmission.

“On that note I am particularly pleased that in a recent yet to be published analysis, my research team was able to document a decrease in HIV incidence among PEPFAR focus countries, when compared with non-focus countries in Africa. We say to the G8 leaders: let us have more PEPFARs rather than more empty promises.”

“This past week we celebrated 40 years since the Apollo XI mission first put a man on the moon, a true testament to what mankind can accomplish with focused leadership and determination. I can only wonder why we cannot put the same focused leadership and determination to conquering HIV/AIDS,” said Professor Montaner.

Professor Stephen Lewis, the former UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on AIDS to Africa, told the conference that scientists needed to become forceful advocates for AIDS funding and for greater resources for global health.

“When the Global Fund faces a shortfall of several billion, you would do the world a tremendous service by finding a way, from your positions of authority, to remind the political leadership of how they used precious public money to bail out the banks, so that Goldman Sachs could make a profit of $3.4 billion in the second quarter of 2009, [and] JP Morgan Chase could make a profit of $2.7 billion in the same period.”

Welcoming delegates to the International AIDS Society conference, Professor Jerry Coovadia recalled the 2000 International AIDS Conference in Durban, at which scientists confronted denial of HIV as the cause of AIDS by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

“The presence of scientists, the presence of reason and rationality…had a huge impact [in South Africa],” he said. “We need your help as much as we did then – we have the worst, severest form of the epidemic. One in five adults has got HIV.”

The Treatment Action Campaign today called on South Africa’s government to continue the scale up of HIV treatment and replace d4T (stavudine) with tenofovir to reduce toxicity and preserve future treatment options, during a major demonstration preceding the opening ceremony of the conference.

South Africa is currently falling far short of its targets for treating people with HIV, says TAC, despite enrolling more than 600,000 people on antiretroviral treatment through the public health system.

Access to antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission remains limited due to poor implementation of the government-specified programme to diagnose and treat mothers with HIV.

Speaking at the conference opening session, Vuyiseka Dubula, General Secretary of TAC, warned: “Economic recovery must include health recovery.”

South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said that South Africa still faced challenges but pointed to progress in areas such as the scale up of laboratory services to offer CD4 counts and viral load tests. "For a middle income country this is no mean feat and illustrates the commitment of the government."

He also told the conference that South Africa needed to accelerate progress on the integration of HIV and TB efforts.