The 18th International AIDS conference is underway in Vienna with the announcement of a new U.N. initiative that aims to simplify the way HIV treatment is provided so it can reach more people. AIDS activists and supporters gathered in the Austrian capital to celebrate on the eve of the meeting.
In the shadow of Vienna's Gothic City Hall, musicians, singers and dancers opened one of Europe's premier charity events for AIDS, the Life Ball. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and German tennis star Boris Becker were among the celebrities that turned out to help raise more than a million dollars for fighting AIDS.
Guests wore costumes that were both creative and outrageous, reflecting the event's theme of "Earth". Some people were completely naked except for body paint, while others were dressed as wood nymphs and fairies, festooning their hair with leaves and vines. Later, after a strong thunderstorm cut the concert short, they danced the night away inside the lavish City Hall and an historic theater.
But after Saturday's party, the real work that has drawn some 20,000 AIDS activists and experts to Vienna began.
Nearly 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, scientists and experts are still searching for a cure and a vaccine for the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. Until those are found, treatment and prevention of HIV remain the best weapons in combatting the virus and are center stage at this conference.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michele Sidibe launched a new initiative called Treatment 2.0, which aims to simplify the way HIV treatment is provided and to scale up access to life saving medicines by bringing treatment costs down and making drug regimens simpler. He said it is important, in part, because in some countries people are losing hope.
"To bring this hope back, we need to simplify treatment, we need to have drugs that can be administered easily, we need to make it owned by communities, we need to make sure that we can have diagnostics that are not costly," he said.
Conference Chairman and International AIDS Society President Julio Montaner said Treatment 2.0 is important because studies have shown that as treatment coverage expands, new infections go down.
"So this is the way forward. Until we have a cure, until we have a vaccine, it could be decades from now, we have a way with Treatment 2.0 to revolutionize the way we approach HIV," said Montaner.
UNAIDS says that compared with current treatment approaches, this new initiative could avert an additional 10 million deaths by 2025.
Delegates this week will also hear about scientific advances in the prevention of HIV infections and discuss protecting the human rights of people who have the virus.