After the AIDS Conference, a Renewed Push

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/8/2012, 3:38 p.m.

Perhaps one of the most compelling images painted by a speaker at the recently concluded International AIDS Conference came from UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe.

During remarks about ways those fighting against AIDS are stemming the tide, Sidibe referred to Lesotho in Southern Africa.

"I recall a coffin maker in Lesotho complaining that business was bad because less people were dying from HIV and AIDS," said Sidibe.

He and delegates at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., renewed their commitment to ending AIDS in this generation. Many look to "Treatment as Prevention" as a key component in the roadmap that will lead to a cure for AIDS.

"Treatment as Prevention is the biggest scientific revolution in HIV/AIDS since the first

antiretrovirals became available in 1996, and access to antiretrovirals has saved millions of

lives," said Dr. Elly Katabira, AIDS 2012 International chair and president of the International

AIDS Society.

"A coordinated and effective roll-out of programs promoting and implementing early diagnosis, followed by early treatment in those countries most affected by the epidemic, also has the potential to be a game-changer in the fade-out of the epidemic. In some countries more than others it is going to be a huge challenge to implement and it will require committed national political will and action."

The more than 40 abstracts presented at that conference that focused on this topic indicate the belief that this is the right way to go, said U.S. conference co-chair Dr. Diane Havlir. During the conference, leaders launched the Towards an HIV Cure global scientific strategy last week which documents the roadmap for the research that it is hoped will lead to a cure.

"AIDS 2012 is proving a watershed event - scientists, activists, on the ground health workers

and program designers are all following the HIV cure issue closely," said Havlir, professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "That the research around the HIV cure is so prominent at AIDS 2012 is proof of where the science has come these past few years, we now actively talk of potential scientific solutions in a way perhaps we weren't some years ago."

Vignetta Charles, senior vice president at AIDS United in Northwest, echoed the enthusiasm of scientists, doctors and researchers about the improved prospects because of the new drugs that have become available.

She said she and her peers are excited about these treatment regimens and other strategies, which with advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention has led to a shift in the momentum in favor of significantly curbing the pandemic.

She singled out PreExposure Prophylaxis [PrEp] which officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is expected to become an integral part of any treatment regime, particularly for people who engage in high-risk behaviors and who are HIV negative. If patients take antiretrovirals every day, it will lower their chances of becoming infected if they're exposed to HIV. So far, PrEP has been quite effective for men who have sex with men and heterosexual men and women.