, VIENNA, Austria, Jul 19 – An International Conference on HIV/AIDS kicks off in Vienna, Austria on Monday to push for expanded access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
The conference is expected to bring together over 20,000 delegates working in the field of HIV, policy makers and persons living with HIV from across the world.
“It is a chance to assess where we are as well as evaluate recent scientific developments,” the International AIDS Conference Chairperson Julio Montaner told Capital News in Vienna.
The conference comes against a backdrop of a global economic crisis that has threatened investments in the prevention of the pandemic. The year 2010 is also the deadline year for universal access to treatment and care set by world leaders.
The conference also comes at a time when spirited scientific research for a possible HIV vaccine and another on Pre-exposure prophylaxes (Prep) to be used as preventative measures are ongoing.
Dr Allan Bernstein, Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Executive Director said scientists working on a HIV vaccine were looking for a globally effective and acceptable vaccine that would be durable and safe.
“We want a vaccine that is effective in high risk populations and one that will protect against the diversity of HIV strains,” Dr Berstein told a group of 60 journalists attending training on HIV prior to the conference in Vienna.
He said there was need for a vaccine that could neutralise all the 150 strains of HIV but added that there was need to increase funding towards research.
On the Pre-exposure Prophylaxes (Prep), another medic, Dr Renee Ridzon said research was ongoing to find a way of preventing HIV transmission in adults as it is done in newborns through Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT).
In this method, a person at risk of contracting HIV would be expected to take Anti-retroviral (ARV) medication prior to engaging in a sexual activity. The medication would prevent a HIV negative person from contracting the virus.
“But there is a dilemma on how we are going to treat everybody who needs the Prep with the limited resources available,” Dr Ridzon said.
“We want to make everyone non-infectious by treating them but the question is should we focus the treatment on those who are already sick or those who are not but are at high risk,” she said.
The World Health Organisation recently issued new guidelines on HIV treatment which stated that persons living with HIV should start their medication early when their CD4 count is at 350. This meant that there would be more people requiring treatment.
“That’s why we want to have a less expensive treatment, make the drugs cheaper so that a dollar can buy more,” she stated.
She however assured that if Prep was adopted, it would not affect the behaviour change messages.
“Behaviour change is not going away we are just taking a different dimension of bio-medical interventions,” she said.
“You need different tools of intervention because some will work in one person but not another and none is 100 percent effective so this will be added benefit,” she added.
Notable speakers at the conference will be former United States President Bill Clinton and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.