Policymakers, experts and advocates converged on Washington, DC this week to take part in the 19th International AIDS Conference, held in the U.S. for the first time in over 20 years.
While infection rates remain high among certain communities in the U.S. and abroad, speakers at the conference highlighted recent strides made in reducing global transmission rates.
"I want to take a step back and think how far we have come since the last time this conference was held in the United States," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech Monday night. "Tragically, there was so little that could be done medically [in 1990]. And thankfully, that has changed. Caring brought action, and action has made an impact."
The new U.S. HIV/AIDS strategy - a three-pronged approach encompassing education, prevention and treatment - is meant to lead the world in HIV/AIDS policy towards achieving an AIDS-free generation.
"The United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation. We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone," Clinton added.
In 2013, the Obama administration will further increase the domestic HIV budget to over $22 billion dollars. HIV funding has increased by $2.5 billion since 2008
The AIDS conference, held between July 22-27 in the Washington Convention Center, aims to answer a major question about the future of HIV/AIDS policy - can the world maintain the political and economic will needed to transform these hopes into reality?
Part of this question has already been answered by key studies on HIV prevention and treatment released at the conference. One of these studies, released Wednesday by the National Institutes of Health, confirms the NIH will begin trial testing a new vaginal ring that could prevent the spread of HIV in Africa.
The program, dubbed ASPIRE by the NIH, will test the vaginal rings in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe and hopes to reduce the transmission rate among partners by 60 percent.
To combat domestic infection rates, the U.S. also announced on Sunday four new public-private initiatives aimed at increasing treatment rates in the country for those most as risk for falling out of care.
"Perhaps the most important principle in our national strategy is one we've been reminded of over and over again in our response to HIV/AIDS: none of us can do this alone," Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday. "That's why we're making a new effort to reach to community-based organizations, businesses, foundations, NGOs, faith organizations and more."
The four initiatives include a $4.5 million multi-year project called the Care for Life Initiative aimed to keep the 50 percent of HIV/AIDS sufferers who fall out of care in the system and a CDC-Walgreens partnership to help patients stay on their medication.
The two other projects include a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid-Medscape initiative aimed at educating clinicians on how to address patients' needs and a partnership between the HHS and right AIDS drug companies to create a single application form for drug medications.
Worldwide, an estimated 34.2 million people live with HIV, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported in its annual report released last week. Although this number was a slight increase from the 33.5 million number in 2010, the increase is most likely due to better reporting and not an increase in transmission, the report said.
Transmission rates were highest in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, with fewer than 25 percent of those infected receiving ARVs in those regions as well as Northern Africa and the Middle East, the report added.
On the positive note, 20 percent more people, or around 8 million, now receive antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs and 24 percent fewer children were infected in the past year, a point strongly highlighted in UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe's remarks to the conference.
"We know how to get to zero - science has shown the way," Sidibe told the conference via videoconference. "The only thing that can stop us now is indecision or a lack of courage. Through strengthened political will and financial resources, we can reach our twin goals of zero new HIV infections among children and zero AIDS-related maternal deaths."
Also, over 80 countries increased their domestic investments for AIDS by over 50 percent between 2006 and 2011, highlighting the continuing importance the world places on the virus. Of this investment, which amounts to around $16.8 billion annually, 50 percent now comes from low and middle-income countries.
However, the report also addressed the $7.2 billion funding gap that will need to be addressed by 2015. This and other issues will continue to be discussed at the conference throughout this week.
by RTT Staff Writer
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