July 10, 2012

To reach the end of HIV/AIDS, research must be a priority

Communications Officer

Yesterday, the International AIDS Society (IAS) and the University of California-San Francisco released the Washington, DC Declaration ahead of this month’s XIX International AIDS Conference. The declaration aims to build support for efforts to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and lists nine priorities that are needed to achieve this goal.

Accelerated research for new HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment tools is included among the priorities listed in the declaration as necessary to finally end the pandemic. Recent years have seen game-changing research results for new treatment and prevention products—from microbicides to vaccines to using treatment as prevention—that are leading many to believe that research is contributing to a watershed moment in HIV/AIDS. "We want to make sure we don't overpromise," Anthony Fauci—head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—said in a recent Associated Press article. But, he added, "I think we are at a turning point."

It seems that the conference organizers couldn’t agree more about the role of science and research in this metamorphosis in the pandemic. “In a scenario unthinkable just a few years ago, we now have the knowledge to begin to end AIDS in our lifetimes,” said Elly Katabira, president of IAS and international chair of AIDS 2012, when releasing the declaration. And as we recently noted, research is shaping up to be a central theme of the conference overall.

Accelerated research for new HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment tools is included among the priorities listed in the Washington, DC Declaration as necessary to finally end the pandemic. Photo credit: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein

At the same time that science is leading to hope that the end of HIV/AIDS is within reach, countries around the world are dealing with budget constraints and the effect of a global economic crisis. “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,” Katabira said. “Through this declaration, we stand together to call on world leaders across all sectors to provide increased resources, visionary leadership, and a full-fledged commitment to seize the opportunity before us.”

It’s heartening that this year’s International AIDS Conference will be held in the United States for the first time in more than 20 years. When the conference last took place in the United States (in San Francisco in 1990), an HIV diagnosis was still equitable with a death sentence. But research soon led to life-saving antiretroviral drugs that, for many, have made HIV/AIDS a chronic and manageable condition. It’s almost overwhelming to think about what the next generation of HIV tools will bring. As Congress and other US policymakers continue the federal appropriations process and the country heads into a presidential election, we hope that US leaders listen to the 25,000 researchers, advocates, people living with HIV, and others attending the conference and calling for much-needed new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

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