World / US and Canada

Tackling AIDS demands global cooperation

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-07-22 15:05

WASHINGTON - Under the theme of Turning the Tide Together, the 19th International AIDS Conference is to take place in Washington during July 22-27.

When Washington first hosted the conference 25 years ago, the mood was somber. The disease was spreading rapidly. Although some progress had been made in promoting safer sex and other preventive efforts and in treating HIV-associated opportunistic infections, just one drug against HIV was available.

Unfortunately, the single drug, known as AZT, which had been approved by the US drug regulators about three months ahead of that conference, provided only modest and short-lived benefits. Absent better interventions, HIV infection in 1987 was essentially a death sentence.

Things have changed a lot in the past quarter century. AIDS has transformed from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease. As Diane Havlir, the US co-chair of this year's conference, has said, "we really do think we are at a turning point."

"We feel like we can declare that we are at the beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemic," the professor of University of California, San Francisco, said at a recent press briefing, citing breakthroughs that should "curb the number of new infections and death from AIDS."

As a matter of fact, the international community has made an unprecedented effort to fight against AIDS since the description of the first AIDS cases over 30 years ago.

The results are enormous. AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections continue to decrease, and the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy alone has saved 14 million life-years in low- and middle-income countries.

The international community has clearly defined achievable targets, including the provision of antiretroviral treatment to 15 million people and the elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015.

Also a robust armamentarium of approximately 30 antiretroviral drugs have been developed, allowing people with access to these medications to live healthy and productive lives.

Because of these developments, as Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Xinhua, this year's conference theme is apt: If the world works hard enough, it can turn the tide.

However, it is also important to keep in mind that a lot of challenges remain on the way of fighting against the second largest epidemic since the Black Plague, such as relatively low antiretroviral drugs coverage in some low- and middle-income countries, increasing drug resistance, AIDS and tuberculosis co-infections, and big funding shortages.

Therefore, the international community needs to continue making concerted efforts to battle against AIDS and eventually tackle the challenge to human health.

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