Seattle scientific meeting on AIDS highlights potential, decries lack of funding

The highly technical Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections is meeting in Seattle this week, focused on reviewing the scientific studies being done worldwide to battle the AIDS pandemic.

One of the presenters was Dr. Jared Baeten of the University of Washington, who gave an update on a ground-breaking study known as the Partners PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) study.

The results from this study, which showed the benefit of using anti-HIV drugs to prevent infection, were so dramatic investigators last summer halted it in order to announce the results — and get the therapy into wider use as a powerful new prevention strategy.

A number of studies have shown that common anti-HIV medications can reduce the viral load almost to nothing in infected individuals, likely preventing the spread of HIV. But as Nature reports out of the Seattle meeting, AIDS experts are frustrated at the lack of funding for putting this strategy into use:

Many scientists and advocates agree that there is now an “awesome possibility to prevent the spread of HIV”, says Sharonann Lynch, HIV policy adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders) in New York. “If we decrease the money invested in treatment now, we are squandering the best opportunity we’re going to have to get ahead of the wave of new infections.”

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.