News / Health

AIDS Conference Wraps Up in Vienna

IAS President Dr. Elly Katabira
IAS President Dr. Elly Katabira

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Margaret Besheer

The International AIDS Conference wrapped up in Vienna Friday, with the first African president taking the helm of the International AIDS Society.  Dr. Elly Katabira of Uganda said he will press rich countries to fulfill promises of funding for universal access to care for people living with HIV.

Dr. Katabira has worked extensively in the field of care and to support people with HIV.  He said improved healthcare access for HIV patients will be his top priority during his two-year tenure as IAS president.

"I am going to continue, where IAS has been, to encourage people - particularly the G8 and the G20 countries - to honor their commitments to put in funds so that there is increased access," said Katabira.

More than 33 million people worldwide are HIV positive.  In Vienna, some 20,000 scientists, advocates, experts and people living with the virus met to review progress and shortcomings in the global fight.

Prevention

On the prevention front, South African scientists Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim reported a promising breakthrough after successful clinical trials of the first microbicidal vaginal gel for women.  Quarraisha Abdool Karim spoke with VOA about the study's findings.

"What we found in the study was that women who were assigned to the tenofovir gel arm had 39 percent protection against getting infected compared to the placebo group," said  Karim. "Those women who used the gel more than 80 percent of the time when they had sex as we advised them to had 54 percent protection.  So that's quite a powerful effect."

Treatment

On the treatment front, UNAIDS debuted 'Treatment 2.0', a strategy to expand access to HIV prevention and treatment.  The initiative aims to avert an additional 10 million deaths by 2025.

There were also several rallies and events highlighting this year's theme of "Rights Here, Right Now" - urging governments to ensure the health and human rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS, including groups that are often discriminated against such as intravenous drug users, prisoners, sex workers and the homeless.

In sessions, participants discussed topics such as eliminating HIV transmission from mother-to-child; the links between HIV and tuberculosis, the emergence of HIV in people over age 50, and the need for more resources for the fight against AIDS.

Accomplishments

The conference also provided an opportunity to display new AIDS prevention and treatment innovations, such as American Doctor David Tomlinson's device for safe and sterile circumcision of baby boys.  Studies show male circumcision can cut the female-to-male HIV transmission by up to 60 percent.

This year's conference was held in Vienna to highlight the growing HIV rate in nearby Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which is fueled by intravenous drug use.  At the conference, participants were urged to sign the "Vienna Declaration", which says the criminalization of illicit drug users is fueling the epidemic and calls for a full policy reorientation.

The next AIDS conference will be held in Washington, DC in 2012.

Related report by Ndimyake Mwakalyelye ("In Focus")

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