By Prakash Tyagi
AIDS 2012, which is taking place in Washington DC this week (22-27 July), is the International AIDS Society’s nineteenth global AIDS conference. All IAS conferences are important, hectic and full of event. But many believe that AIDS 2012 will turn out to be a historic moment on the journey to end the epidemic.
After a long gap of 22 years, and following the US reforming its stand on HIV to allow people living with HIV/AIDS to enter the country, AIDS 2012 has returned to American soil. This in itself is of paramount importance. Most would agree that without the US’s role in research and funding, the battle against HIV would not go further. However, that this leadership now comes with a stronger sense of solidarity, opened borders, and a sense that HIV is everyone’s problem, the momentum gains another level.
Washington D.C, the host city of AIDS 2012, has been dealing with a severe HIV crisis with prevalence rates between 4 and 7% within African American communities. This is a bleak picture, comparable to the highest prevalence rates in the world. The symbolic importance of AIDS 2012 on Washington’s own HIV crisis will be huge.
Never before in the history of the international AIDS conferences has the end of the epidemic looked so probable, so near and so achievable than it does now. Significant advances have been made in preventing mother-to-child-transmission, and there is now a major possibility that this mode of transmission may become history in the not too distant future. Remarkable progress on HIV prevention such as micro-bicides has also been witnessed, as has increasing global acceptance that HIV treatment is the best prevention. Steady investments in research science are likely to lead to more major breakthroughs.
In the face of current economic crisis funding has been a problem. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis had to put hold on new programmes until 2014. About half of the current global spending on HIV comes from the US. Other contributions and sources would be a major relief. There is hope, as globally and within countries there a more committed effort to fund HIV prevention, care and research seems to be appearing. At the beginning of 2012, the World Bank committed its support to governments and organizations working on HIV and AIDS, and significant improvements are being seen in the context of governments investing in their national responses.
HIV prevalence rates have gone down by about 20% globally in the last 12 years. In most parts of the world the epidemic is at a slow and steady decline except in North Africa and Eastern European regions. The numbers of deaths have reduced steadily over years and some 8.75 million are on antiretroviral therapy. These are all positive signs but the progress is slower than expected. UNAIDS believes that, at this pace, it may take another 40 years to end the epidemic. This is too long to wait.
A whole 31 years down the line, the HIV epidemic has cumulatively impacted 65 million lives and taken 30 million more. The loss has been huge, but it looks like that the global community is more determined than ever to take the road that goes to the end of the epidemic.