AIDS conference at key turning point

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WASHINGTON -- The world's largest AIDS conference returned to the United States on Sunday with a plea against complacency at a time when the epidemic is at a critical turning point. "We can start to end AIDS," one expert said.

There is no cure or vaccine yet, but scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus -- largely by using treatment not just to save patients but to make them less infectious, too.

"Future generations are counting on our courage to think big, be bold and seize the opportunity before us," said Diane Havlir of the University of California, San Francisco, a co-chair of the International AIDS Conference.

The Obama administration calls the goal an AIDS-free generation, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said what was "once a far-off dream, now is in sight."

But the challenge that more than 20,000 scientists, doctors, people living with the AIDS virus and policy-makers will grapple with this week is how to make this promising science a practical reality. What combinations of protections work best in different regions, from AIDS-ravaged poor countries to hot spots in developed countries like the U.S.? With HIV increasingly an epidemic of the poor and the marginalized, will countries find the will to invest in the most vulnerable?

And where's the money? The world spent $16.8 billion fighting AIDS in poor countries last year, but that's still $7 billion a year shy of the amount needed to get the 15 million people most in need of treatment on drugs by 2015, the United Nations says. Eight million take them today.

Experts told the conference Sunday that a global recession and fatigue in the AIDS fight threaten those dollars.

"We must resolve together never to go backwards," said Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society.

One key step in stemming HIV's spread is to treat more infected pregnant women so they don't spread the virus to their babies. Some 300,000 children were infected last year, but that number is steadiliy dropping.

nation - health - science


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