The HIV/AIDS sector has been under attack recently by some health practitioners who argue that too much money is being spent on HIV/AIDS to the detriment of other diseases.
However, Craig McClure, the executive director of International AIDS Society (IAS) says it is unfortunate that the criticism that HIV is distorting health systems comes at a time ‘when success is finally in our hands’.
‘HIV has spawned an interest in health systems that was never there before, and [investment in HIV] is helping to drive the expansion of the public health systems globally to reach all those who need it,’ said McClure in a telephone interview.
IAS president Dr Pedro Cahn described HIV as ‘an exceptional challenge’ given that almost 7000 people a day were being infected with HIV that needed ‘spectacular funds’ to mount an adequate response.
‘There is no doubt that in order for us to achieve the 2010 Universal Access targets, health systems must be further strengthened,’ said Cahn.
‘This will require an increase in resources, including additional resources for commodities like drugs and diagnostic tools, basic health care infrastructure and the training and retaining of the health care workforce. With the life-long interventions brought by antiretroviral therapy, the success of HIV/AIDS programmes around the world is dependent on health systems strengthening.’
Some exciting new scientific evidence will also be discussed at the conference. One of these is the claim by the Swiss Federal AIDS Commission on HIV/AIDS that people with an undetectable viral load for more than six months and no sexually transmitted infections, should be considered non-infectious.
According to the Swiss commission, ‘sex without condoms may pose no realistic risk of HIV transmission from people with an undetectable viral load and no sexually transmitted infections’.
‘This statement has fuelled much debate and drawn some criticism, this is an area which must be thoroughly investigated and debated,’ said McClure.
However on the negative side, research on monkeys which shows that their antibodies do not help to control simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in monkeys is likely to raise more debate about the ‘ongoing search for an HIV vaccine for humans:, said McClure.
Two prominent South Africans, Judge Edwin Cameron and Professor Linda Richter, are addressing plenary sessions of the conference.
The conference will be opened by Mexican President Felipe CalderÃ³n, United Nation’s (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan.