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International AIDS Conference to Call for Universal Action


Twenty-five thousand people are expected to participate in the 17th International AIDS Conference [August 3-8] in Mexico City. The conference theme, "Universal Action Now," is a renewed call to combat the viral pandemic that has gripped the world for nearly 30 years.

The AIDS 2008 summit brings leading HIV and AIDS researchers, community leaders, policy experts, activists and delegations of young people from around the world to the first International AIDS Conference ever held in Latin America. The region is known for its human rights response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, says Craig McClure, executive director of the International AIDS Society,the group that's been planning the biennial event in concert with the United Nations and other global partners.

"All of us working in HIV now are realizing that although we talked about human rights for 25 years, very little has really been done to insure that the communities that are most vulnerable to HIV are really able to access the prevention and treatment services that they deserve." He says hosting the conference in Latin America, which has been an exception, is exciting because "it really puts those human rights issues at the foreground."

AIDS 2008 co-chair Pedro Cahn says the conference is taking place at a time of growing support for efforts to ensure universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, an initiative advanced by the United Nations in 2006. "We need to debate a little bit more how we can strengthen health systems through the AIDS response. So instead of competing priorities we are looking for interconnected solutions."

Focus on AIDS Vaccine

AIDS 2008 will feature 5,000 sessions, workshops and poster exhibits on the state of the epidemic and strategies for scaling up treatment, care and support networks. Cahn says the development of an AIDS vaccine is critical, given the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS and the 6,500 new HIV infections every day.

There is no cure for AIDS and 25 million people have died from the disease since it was identified in the 1980s.

Considering the recent failure of a promising human vaccine trial, Cahn says researchers must redirect their efforts. "While recent setbacks in clinical trails regarding microbicides and vaccines have been extremely disappointing, this crisis should be seen as an opportunity to learn from the results of research in order to help advance the field in the future."

Three sessions at the conference will focus on the quest for an AIDS vaccine, including a panel discussion with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseasesdirector Anthony Fauci, who stopped testing on an experimental vaccine in mid-July.

As scientists look for new approaches to prevent and treat this disease, International AIDS Society director Craig McClure says their work not only benefits HIV/AIDS, but also addresses a larger global health agenda. "We are working to expand or evolve or strengthen our coalition beyond HIV and AIDS towards a world that truly recognizes that health and health for all is a fundamental building block of development."

Conference co-chair Pedro Cahn says major achievements - such as greater access to anti-retroviral therapy - come about because of this biennial AIDS meeting. He says three million people in lower and middle income countries where the problem is most acute, now have access to these drugs. Cahn notes, however, that that is only about one third of those who need them. He says AIDS 2008 is an opportunity to address these persistent inequities.

Daily online coverage of AIDS 2008 is available at the conference website, at www.AIDS2008.org
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