New phase in AIDS battle prompts strategic rethink

AIDS experts gather in Vienna on Sunday for a six-day rally on the new options emerging in a war which after nearly three turbulent decades is entering a stable, promising phase.

Expected to draw more than 20,000 researchers, policymakers and grassroots workers, the International AIDS Conference is the 18th since acquired immune deficiency syndrome came to light in 1981.

For almost all this time, the conferences have been the theatre for frustration and sometimes anger. Doctors would reel off the latest setbacks in the quest to treat and prevent the AIDS virus, while activists pounded the drum for money and action by Big Pharma.

Today, though, the mood is brighter than ever. Indeed, many AIDS warriors are talking cautiously of a foe that is on the way to being contained and one day will be rolled back.

"One day, we will have to turn our minds on how to wipe out the virus," Jean-Francois Delfraissy, director of France's National Agency for AIDS Research (ANRS), said in an interview.

The optimism comes from the success of antiretroviral drugs, the "cocktail" of drugs that, like a boot pressed firmly on the throat of a killer, keeps HIV suppressed.

For millions, this medication has transformed the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from a death sentence to a chronic but manageable disease.

Even better, antiretrovirals are also emerging as a policy tool for prevention. Lowering viral levels to below perceptible levels massively reduces the risk of handing on the pathogen between sex partners or from a pregnant mother to her child.

There is also hugely encouraging news about male circumcision for preventing the spread of HIV to men, and even a few glimmers of hope from the lab, where scientists are toiling for a vaccine and virus-thwarting microbicide gel.

"We really are at an important crossroads," Gottfried Hirnschall, new director of HIV/AIDS at the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), said in an interview.

"It's all coming together. We no longer have this treatment-versus-prevention conversation. The question now is about making the best of the resources we have, and in the most intelligent way."

Many terrible problems remain, Hirnschall cautioned.

More than 33 million people live with the virus and each year 2.7 million more cases of HIV occur. Stigma, ignorance and discrimination, in many places, are entrenched. Millions of poor, needy people have yet to clutch the drug lifeline.

To help them, a key question in Vienna is how to finetune the use of antiretrovirals and mesh them with low-cost medical support, using nurses or medical orderlies as substitutes for doctors.

Doctors may be advised to start prescribing anti-HIV drugs at an earlier stage of infection, a tactic that would save more lives and, say some, be a cost-saver too, as healthy people are more productive for longer.

Yet does the world have the will, at a time of belt-tightening, to foot the bill for treating people sooner?

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.

"The success of ARVs (antiretrovirals) made it so people think HIV is no longer there," said Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, Canada, and president of the International AIDS Society, which is organising the conference.

"Politicians basically react on a short-term agenda. Since HIV treatment became effective, people are not under the same pressure that they used to be."

The Vienna conference will also turn the spotlight on Eastern Europe, where the epidemic is being driven especially by intravenous drug users.

Russia and Ukraine, the two hotspots of infection, are under pressure to scrap policies that criminalise drug users and to encourage needle-exchange programmes and help to wean addicts of heroin by using methadone, a safer substitute for opiates.

VIPs attending include former US president Bill Clinton, Microsoft tycoon and philanthropist Bill Gates, rock star Annie Lennox and Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg.

ri-chc/gk

 

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star