Leading AIDS researchers will be meeting in Paris from July 13th through the 16th. They’ll attend the 2nd International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment. In other words, it’s a conference on basic and clinical science. Before the meeting, a number of the researchers spoke to reporters about the two-decade battle against the disease.
The chairman of the Paris conference is Professor Michel Kazatchkine, who’s also director of the French National AIDS Research Society.
He says, "We’re expecting at least five thousand participants at this time. And probably almost thirty percent of those will be from the developing world. And we’re very pleased indeed that it is held in Paris as 2003 marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the virus."
He says one of the focuses of the meeting will be a “new type of science” based on what he calls operational research.
He says, "The science of access to treatment in the developing world, where not only we analyze the efficacy, the tolerance of antiviral drugs as we give them to patients in the developing world – but also all of what we learn from the social scientists, the economists about all the complex issues that this expanded access to treatment in the developing world raises."
Those issues include the cost of drugs, large-scale treatment programs in countries with poor health care ssystems, and stigma and discrimination.
But Professor Kazatchkine says there will also be sessions on controversial subjects. That is, where debate is split down the middle. Such is the case regarding HAART, Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy.
He says, "For example, the issue of whether there is more risk than benefit in interrupting treatment for some time for patients who are successful on HAART. Another debate will be on whether a simple, single dose intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission with Nevirapine, which is a very simple thing to implement, is still acceptable in the light of the recent data showing that a double drug combination therapy is much more effective in preventing transmission, although it is much more difficult to implement."
Also addressing reporters, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
He says one of the lessons that has been learned in the scientific community over the past 20 years is to “keep an open mind.”
Dr. Fauci, "When you’re dealing with a sexually transmitted disease or a disease that’s blood borne, that to think it is going to stay confined to an epidemiological restricted population, when in fact sexual activity is as human as humanity can be, that that was a bit naďve, I think, broadly among the people in the world who were perceiving what HIV is."
Dr. Fauci was questioned about President Bush’s 15-billion dollar AIDS initiative, for which he serves as an advisor. He says it appears the plan contains an option to purchase generic drugs. But he adds a final decision is expected by the man nominated to oversee the initiative, Randall Tobias. Mr. Tobias is a former drug company executive.
While the president’s initiative promotes prevention programs based on abstinence, Dr. Fauci says it also provides for condoms.
He says, "There’s reliance on a number of models. One of the models that has been discussed in detail by the administration has been the ABC model that has worked in Uganda. And the ABC for abstinence, be faithful and the use of condoms includes condoms. It’s an explicit part of the program, in the ABC program."
The International AIDS Society Conference is not expected to present much new information on vaccine research. Most of that is expected to come in September at a conference planned for New York.
Some new topics that will be discussed include the risk of being infected with a drug-resistant strain of HIV, the latest drug trials and whether a shift in fat deposits in the body is caused by anti-retroviral drugs or the virus itself.