Washington AIDS summit heralds ′turning point′ | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.07.2012
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Washington AIDS summit heralds 'turning point'

As researchers say they have reached a turning point in the battle against the virus, more than 21,000 attendees were expected at an International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. starting this week.

It's a calling card that many have come to expect. Ahead of this year's International AIDS Conference in Washington, scientists believe they have truly arrived at a turning point.

Not only does this 19th gathering of experts in the field of HIV/AIDS research come soon after the American approval to allow the use of an HIV treatment drug as a prophylactic - but it also comes as some say they can see the first glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel.

"For the first time, I have a feeling that we're at the end of the AIDS epidemic," says Dr Diane Havlir, a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital and a co-chair of the XIX International AIDS Conference.

Turning the tide

Starting Sunday, researchers and other interested parties were gathering for a week of meetings and presentations.

"Turning the Tide Together" is the motto of this year's conference - it's a motto that reflects Havlir's own efforts in the battle against AIDS.

Havlir has researched and worked with HIV-infected patients since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

She says she has good reason for her new found hope.

"Over the past three years, there has been a series of breakthroughs in HIV research that will help us significantly reduce the number of new infections and deaths from AIDS," says Havlir.

A huge red ribbon hangs from the North Portico of the White House in Washington

The world's top HIV/AIDS researchers are gathering in the US capital, Washington

Drugs can now prolong life for longer and some can even prevent infection - up to a point. The US Food and Drug Administration this week approved the drug Truvada for preventative use. In tests, the drug reduced the risk of infection by up to 75 percent.

Protection against infection will be a major focus for the 25,000 participants at this year's conference.

New medicines, tests and treatments, as well as the ongoing search for a vaccine - and ultimately, a cure - will be discussed in workshops and panels consisting of researchers, doctors, policymakers and those living with the virus.

As financial crises continue around the world, participants will also debate new ways to finance HIV/AIDS research.

"It's necessary to have continuous investments in times when the US and other countries face major financial challenges," says Chris Collins, vice president of amfAR, a US foundation for AIDS research.

Still an upward battle

Some fear the issue has lost its urgency in public debate.

"AIDS has largely disappeared from the radar in the US and abroad," says Havlir. "We are aware of this problem but it currently doesn't receive the attention for us to take the necessary measures."

About 30 million people have died from AIDS worldwide.

Currently, 34 million people are known to be HIV-positive, but only 6 million are being treated - it's a number that Havlir hopes will soon double.

Meanwhile, Deborah von Zinkernagel, coordinator of the US AIDS Imitative in the US State Department praises the collaboration with African states.

"One example is South Africa where the government and civil society are very committed because they realize what impact the epidemic has on their country, but we also observe this in other countries such as Namibia and Botswana," says von Zinkernagel.

The so-called war on AIDS is also a war for human rights around the world.

In 2009, US President Barack Obama lifted a travel ban which had stopped HIV-infected people from entering the country. This, in part, has allowed the bi-annual conference to return to the US after an absence of 22 years.

Author: Christina Bergmann / jrb
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany

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