WASHINGTON – The world’s largest AIDS conference returned to the U.S. on Sunday with a plea against complacency at a time when the epidemic is at a critical turning point. “We can start to end AIDS,” one expert said.
Scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of the intractable virus – largely by using treatment not just to save patients, but to make them less infectious, too.
“Future generations are counting on our courage to think big, be bold and seize the opportunity before us,” said Dr. Diane Havlir of the University of California, San Francisco, a co-chair of the International AIDS Conference.
The challenge that more than 20,000 scientists, doctors, people living with HIV and policymakers will grapple with this week is how to make this promising science a practical reality. What combinations of protections work best in different regions, from AIDS-ravaged poor countries to hot spots in developed countries like the U.S.? With HIV increasingly an epidemic of the poor and the marginalized, will countries find the will to invest in the most vulnerable? And where’s the money?
Experts told the conference Sunday that a global recession and fatigue in the AIDS fight threaten those dollars.
“We must resolve together never to go backwards,” said Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society.
Added Havlir, “It would be an extraordinary failure of global will and conscience if financial constraints truncated our ability to end AIDS just when the science has shown us that this goal is achievable.”
One key step in stemming HIV’s spread is to treat more infected pregnant women so they don’t spread the virus to their babies. Some 300,000 children were infected last year, but that number is steadily dropping.
UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe put a face to that investment Sunday, introducing a mother from Nigeria who received U.S.-funded treatment that meant her daughter, now 13, was born without HIV.
“I do not want to be the lucky exception,” Florence Uche Ignatius told the crowd.
Added her daughter, Ebube Francis Taylor, “I want all children to be born just like me, free of HIV.”