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July 19, 2012

Experts See Hopeful Agenda at International AIDS Conference

by Vidushi Sinha

A new report from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, says a record eight million HIV-positive people around the world are now getting life-saving treatment for the virus that causes AIDS, a 20 percent increase over the past year.

At the 19th International AIDS Conference opening in Washington July 22, AIDS activists, experts and government officials hope to make further progress toward zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths. The advances in AIDS prevention and treatment over the past few years have been phenomenal and the conference opening in Washington will acknowledge that.

But these advances should benefit those most in need, and the conference will have to address that, says Dr. Eric Goosby, the United States' Global AIDS Coordinator."

To do that we need partner governments who have the will, the capacity and the ability to mobilize their resources," he said.

The UNAIDS report shows that international AIDS funding has flattened but 81 countries have increased their domestic investment for AIDS treatment by 50 percent over the past four years.

"We are seeing countries like China who decided now to completely pay for their HIV response," said Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS's executive director. "It’s the same for India, Russia, Brazil, which were not happening, and that is what I think is the new narrative in HIV response."

Sidibe says emerging nations have been aggressive in launching new programs for ending pediatric AIDS, increasing access to antiretroviral therapy, and reducing the rate of new HIV infections.

"What we need now is to sustain those results," he said. "What we need is to make sure that we build a new momentum which will help countries to own their own response because even if we are calling to end AIDS, we know that it will not happen tomorrow morning."

Experts say that with 34 million people still living with HIV and with 2.5 million new infections last year, there's still a lot of work to do.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health - and a pioneer in the fight against AIDS - says we now have the medical tools to end this epidemic.

"And now it’s the political will and the enthusiasm and the resources that we need to make sure that we implement it and to scale it up to the highest degree possible - the implementation of interventions that we know work," he said. "We know that because we have proven it, it is no longer guess work."

AIDS activists say this year's AIDS Conference comes on the heels of major victories against the disease and amid new hope that an end to the AIDS pandemic is finally within reach.