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Aids expert says politicians can help end epidemic in a generation

posted 2 Sept 2010, 04:57 by Mpelembe

A leading AIDS expert tells Reuters that politicians can help solve AIDS epidemic in a generation by carrying out reforms to prevent discrimination.

SALONES PALAIS ROUGE, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (SEPTEMBER 1, 2010) REUTERS - A leading HIV/AIDS expert said on Wednesday (September 1) that the key to combating the disease lies in the hands of politicians.

Julio Montaner, clinical director of the British Colombia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, painted a positive picture of the medical strides being made to confront the disease.

¨We have made dramatic and impressive advances from a medical point of view. But in terms of the political will and the systemic changes that are needed in order to fight discrimination against drug addiction, discrimination against homosexuality, with all the factors involved in the fight against HIV, unfortunately, there has been very little progress. If we succeed and the politicians have the courage to carry out the reforms that are needed to be able to embrace patients infected or affected by or at risk of HIV, we can solve this epidemic in this generation,¨ he told Reuters.

Montaner, a former president of the International AIDS Society, is attending a symposium on AIDS in Buenos Aires organised by Fundacion Huesped, an Argentine non-governmental organisation fighting HIV/AIDS. The three-day event began on Wednesday (September 1) and provides a forum for doctors and researchers, as well as social scientists, people living with the virus, activists and the general public to discuss issues concerning the epidemic.

According to UNAids, fewer than 40% of young people have basic information about HIV and less than 40% of people living with HIV know their status.

The number of new HIV infections continues to outstrip the numbers on treatment; for every two people starting treatment, a further five become infected with the virus.

Only 42% of those in need of treatment had access to treatment in 2008 and only 38% of children in need of treatment in poorer countries received it.

Montaner is one of the leading figures in the field of anti-retroviral drugs. In the 1990s, Montaner´s clinical trials were instrumental in combining three anti-retroviral drugs into the cocktail that is still used to treat people living with HIV.

Recent breakthroughs include a vaginal gel used by women before sexual intercourse that studies show halved the numbers who became infected.

¨It´s still being studied but the preliminary results demonstrate that we´re close to having an effective prevention weapon for women. We´ve had some success with a vaccine, which unfortunately is a long-term investment. We´ve had very good news on the effectiveness of the new drugs. At the moment highly resistant virus can be treated in a highly effective way with the new drugs. And lastly I think that the most important thing that has happened in the past decade in HIV is in treating patients we´re reducing the viral load. The virus they have in their blood, in their [sexual] bodily fluids and those individuals become non-transmitters, and by not transmitting we can succeed in controlling the epidemic for everyone at a stroke,¨ said Montaner.

The rate of HIV/AIDS infection has plateaued since 2000. According to UNAids, almost 60 million people have been infected with HIV and 25 million people have died of HIV-related causes. In 2008, some 33.4 million people were living with HIV. There were 2.7 million new infections and 2 million AIDS-related deaths.