International AIDS Conference Poised for Kick Off
Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 7/18/2012, 5:21 p.m.
"This is a medical, high-level conference with [high level participation], community involvement and a combination of individuals from all over the world," Havlir said.
Havlir said implementation of treatment and other strategies, along with some very positive medical advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention recently means that the momentum has shifted in favor of decisively stamping out the disease.
She said new data and dialogue on PrEp will likely be an integral part of any treatment regime. PrEP is short for PreExposure Prophylaxis, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], may be part of comprehensive HIV prevention services for those who are high-risk HIV-negative individuals. If they take antiretrovirals everyday, it will lower their chances of becoming infected if they're exposed to HIV. So far, PrEP has been very effective for men who have sex with men [MSM] and heterosexual men and women.
She suggested broader wrap-around services for those living with HIV/AIDS, increased screenings for diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and even greater focus on curbing the growth of the pandemic among populations such as African-American men who sleep with men, drug users, pregnant women and male and female sex workers.
"There are novel ways to treat HIV," Havlir explained. "There are new drugs and technologies, new TB drugs, all of which is extraordinarily exciting."
Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, concurred.
"Now we have tremendous new tool kits, a better understanding and new technologies," he said. "Implementation is very important. He credited the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR] and similar programs with facilitating the widespread treatment of those living with HIV and treatment prevention.
"Now we have all the pieces to say that we have an AIDS-free generation," he said. "We're facing a tough global economic climate, a decline in donor interest and a decline in media interest. A real concern is that we will not go the last mile."
International Conference Chair Dr. Elias Katabira agreed.
"In a scenario unthinkable a few years ago, we now have the knowledge to end AIDS in our lifetimes," he said. "Yet at this moment of extraordinary scientific progress and potential, the global response to AIDS faces crippling financial challenges that threaten past success and future progress."
Beyrer spoke of the need for a "reinvigorated response" and explained that some of the keys to that are expanding access to retrovirals, conducting more research, filling the need for more vaccines and a cure, and better drugs with fewer side effects.
"None of this will happen without mobilization, community engagement and protest," he said. "There has to be an enriched response."
Both Havlir and Beyrer said that the rising rates of infection of MSMs or gay or bisexual men is alarming and underscores the severity of the problem for MSMs in the United States, especially in minority communities.
Beyrer suggested a global response of prevention, treatment and cure. He described homophobia as a political and social construct, and said there is still much work to be done.
"It's a very real challenge," he said. "We're not going to turn the tide if any of these populations are excluded."