19 July 2007

An end to HIV?

A new generation of HIV drugs is so promising that researchers are talking about eradicating the virus, an international Aids conference will be told in Sydney next week.

A new generation of HIV drugs is so promising that researchers are talking about eradicating the virus, an international Aids conference will be told in Sydney next week.

The International Aids Society (IAS) conference from July 22-25 will bring together more than 5 000 experts from around the world to hear presentations on the cutting edge of HIV/Aids research.

Conference co-chairman David Cooper said the research ranged from studies showing a simple measure such as male circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 60 percent to details of the latest hi-tech pharmaceuticals.

Cooper said some of the most exciting research developments came from a new generation of drugs called integrase inhibitors, which help block the HI-virus infecting new cells.

Fewer side effects
Cooper said while cocktails of powerful anti-retroviral drugs had been used to help contain the virus and prolong life for more than a decade, the new drugs were more potent than their predecessors and had fewer side effects.

Cooper, the director of Australia's National Centre for HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said integrase inhibitors and other promising research avenues such as gene therapy meant eradicating HIV was a realistic possibility.

"The integrase inhibitors are particularly potent drugs and I think you will start to see that eradication will return to the agenda with these new agents and new ways of using them," Cooper told reporters.

"Eradication was talked about when anti-retroviral therapies became available in the mid-1990s but went off the agenda because of the toxicity of the drugs - people thought it was going to take 50 years."

Back on the agenda
"Now with some of the newer drugs and newer strategies it's back on the agenda again."

Cooper said up to 30 drugs were now available to HIV patients in the developed world, meaning they live longer but present a challenge to the health systems which treat them because they are more prone to conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

He said a major topic for discussion at the conference was making the latest drugs available in impoverished developing countries.

"In the developing world, we've only got the standard older drugs, which are more toxic," he said.

"One of the tensions is how we get these really new medications into the developing world."

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said about two million people were being treated with anti-retroviral drugs in developing nations but the aim was quadruple that number.

Fauci said US President George W. Bush committed 30 billion dollars to HIV/Aids treatment in the developing world last May, in what amounted to the largest public health campaign ever undertaken.

Still much to do
"The achievements in treatment have been breathtaking, there has been so much accomplished in the years up to 2007, but there is still much to do - that will be the key message I'll be taking to the conference," he told AFP.

To help ensure that anti-retroviral medicines are properly rolled out in countries which often lack basic infrastructure, Cooper has proposed delegates at the conference sign an initiative called the "Sydney Declaration."

The declaration will earmark 10 percent of HIV/Aids funding in the developing world for research, to ensure programmes are working efficiently.

"If donors can't see that there's good outcomes, that it's effective, then unfortunately they're going to pull the plug," Cooper said. "The only way to keep it on track is with research." – (Sapa-AFP)

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HIV/Aids Centre
HIV/Aids Centre

July 2007


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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