Last week, some 24,000 people from 183 countries attended the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C., including my colleague and Scope contributor Ruthann Richter who posted periodic updates from the biannual gathering. (You can read her past updates in our HIV/AIDS category.)
The conference ended Friday and acknowledged a turning point in the fight against the epidemic. As Richter explains in a news story today, scientists and policy makers are optimistic about achieving the goal of an "AIDS-free generation" in the future despite a multitude of economic, social and scientific challenges. She writes:
The world is gaining ground against AIDS, with more people now on treatment (8 million) than those who need it (7 million), said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, also known as UNAIDS. Worldwide infections have declined 20 percent since 2011, and in hard-hit Africa, AIDS-related deaths have fallen from 1.8 million in 2005 to 1.2 million today, he said.
Still, there are 34 million people living today with HIV, and for every person on treatment, two more become infected, highlighting the need for stepped-up prevention efforts, speakers said. And though 100,000 fewer babies were born HIV-positive in 2010, there were still some 330,000 infants who became infected at birth or through breastfeeding in 2011. [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton], who announced an $80 million initiative to prevent mother-to-child transmission, said the goal is to reduce this number to zero by 2015.
The advancing science of AIDS, meanwhile, has produced a plethora of new treatments and prevention strategies that could help drive down AIDS prevalence. These include voluntary male circumcision, use of anti-AIDS drugs in infected individuals to reduce their chance of passing on the virus to others, as well as use of these drugs as preventives in uninfected people.
Previously: International AIDS Conference Day Four: Focusing on a vaccine, International AIDS Conference Day Three: Daring to talk about a cure, International AIDS Conference Day Two: Sir Elton John calls for compassion, International AIDS Conference Day Two: Hillary Clinton envisions AIDS-free generation and International AIDS Conference: Day One
Photo by Paula Bailey