New research shows that Africans may be more ‘genetically vulnerable to HIV’ because of adaptations in their genes made to combat malaria, said former US president Bill Clinton.
This could also explain why African Americans were far more susceptible to HIV than other Americans, he added.
Clinton was speaking at a special session of the 17th International AIDS Conference on Monday, where he was given two standing ovations by thousands of delegates who crammed the conference venue to hear him speak.
Clinton had returned the previous day from a trip to Senegal, Rwanda, Liberia and Ethiopia, and said that what he had heard and seen in Africa informed his speech.
He called for ‘common purpose’ to address HIV/AIDS.
‘AIDS is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by Saint George, the original knight in shining armor, but this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers.’
Since 2002, the Clinton Foundation has worked to lower the prices of antiretroviral drugs.
Almost half the three million people on ARV treatment in the world were getting medication purchased through Clinton Foundation agreements, said Clinton.
Paediatric AIDS treatment now cost $60 a year (around R445), a 10-fold decrease in three years, he added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) treatment guidelines for infants released in Senegal recently recommended starting treatment as soon as HIV was diagnosed
‘This is a huge deal, based on research that proves mortality drops four-fold if treatment is initiated as soon as a baby is diagnosed with HIV,’ said Clinton.
While the number of children on ARV treatment had tripled over three years, ‘far too few children’ were getting ARVs.
‘Treatment and prevention must go hand-in-hand,’ said Clinton. When Brazil made antiretroviral drugs available, HIV testing increased by 30% in a year. People on treatment also have a reduced likelihood of transmitted HIV [because of a reduced viral load],’ added Clinton.
In a rare show of praise for current US president George Bush, Clinton praised his successor for last week extending his President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) for another five years with a $48-billion budget.
‘This is a stunning development for which we should all be grateful,’ said Clinton.
Meanwhile delegates heard that millions would still have to be spent on the search for an HIV vaccine, as scientists were short of ideas about how to design a vaccine.
Dr Tachi Yamada, executive director of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health programme, described vaccine development as ‘more of an art than a science’ as little was known at present about the basis of human immunity.
‘We need a lot of new ideas,’ said Yamada, revealing that the Gates Foundation was pouring millions of dollars into funding innovative vaccine ideas.
‘The challenges are big. The road is treacherous but I am totally convinced that we will live in a world without HIV one day,’ said Yamada. ‘This is the highest objective of the Gates Foundation and one that we will press for in collaboration with many other partners.’ – health-e news.