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Report: HIV Prevention Research Enters New Era

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Joe DeCapua

A new report warns that promising developments in HIV prevention could be undermined by funding gaps and a lack of political will.  The report’s being released in conjunction with the 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.

Mitchell Warren, head of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, says the new report is called "Turning the Page."

“Turning the Page for us refers to the HIV prevention research world really entering a new period in its activity,” he says.

That new period comes 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Good news, bad news

“We’re at a point now where some really important recent discoveries have not answered all our questions, but have certainly helped take us into some new directions and really open up a new chapter in the search for additional options to prevent HIV,” says Warren.

AVAC report released at 18 International AIDS Conference
AVAC report released at 18 International AIDS Conference

Those recent discoveries include anti-bodies found in some HIV positive people that prevent the AIDS virus from entering cells.  Then there’s last September’s results of the Thai vaccine trial, which proved a vaccine can offer some protection from infection.

But Warren says the good news comes at a time when researchers are facing a big obstacle – limited funding.

“Well, isn’t that just the way science is?  Just as we’re getting some of the most exciting results, just as we’re getting new concepts to test, we’re reaching a point in the global environment where the economy just can’t support everything…. Clearly, this is all happening in the context of severe economic crisis,” he says.

It’s time to be “smarter,” he says, about research as funding levels off or decreases.

“We’re seeing a lot of competition for resources, which is inevitable in periods of scarcity.  People saying we can’t afford to have disease specific programs.  We need public health.  We need good health systems.  Other people saying the treatment programs that have been scaled-up over the last number of years have been the best investments in building health systems, while also dealing with the AIDS epidemic,” says Warren

A microbicide that works against HIV?

One of the major announcements expected at the 18th International AIDS conference is about a microbicide gel called CAPRISA 004.

“It’s a fascinating program.  CAPRISA is the center of AIDS program of research in South Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  And KwaZulu-Natal is one of the provinces of South Africa and it’s the one with the highest rates of HIV. And it’s been really the epicenter of the epidemic there,” he says

The research is funded by the South African government and USAID. Clinical trial results for CAPRISA 004, which contains HIV fighting drugs, will be released on July 20.

“Whether that result is positive or if is a flat result or something in between – something that we’re not quite sure what it is – it is the first ever anti-retroviral containing product.  So it really does open up a new world of learning,” he says.

Warren says when it comes to HIV/AIDS, people must be ready to be surprised.  He adds, “The greatest advances…have come about because people and institutions refused to accept conventional wisdom about what was possible.”

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