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We’ve got the science, now implement it!

Posted 16 mai 2013, 11:02 , by Conference Leadership

By Adeeba Kamarulzaman, IAS 2013 Local Co-Chair

I have mixed emotions on this day, AIDS Memorial Day 2013. It always saddens me to remember the lives cut short by AIDS but at the same I think it is also an opportunity to take something positive out of the experience. The massive strides we’ve made in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic means that we now have the potential not to lose ANYONE young to AIDS. And the resurgence we are seeing in the science in the past three years certainly bodes well for exploring new ways of defeating the virus.

If only the reality on the ground reflected the potential. Yes we should always acknowledge how far we have come – we’ve put eight million people on antiretroviral treatment, an extraordinary feat given that there were only a few tens of thousands a decade ago. Deaths from AIDS related diseases have dropped by 25 per cent just over the past five years.

But there are still eight million people needing antiretroviral treatment and so many of those are marginalised communities – people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, men who have sex with men.

Which makes cases like Cambodia’s so illuminating. Recent news that the World Health Organisation believes Cambodia can end HIV infections by 2020 is truly inspiring and confirmation for many of us of what we already knew – that the country had put in place all the right ingredients – strong civil society involvement, robust research partnerships, innovative on the ground treatment, care and prevention services and most significantly I think – committed government policy that has been seen through.

For we do have to ask the question – if Cambodia, a war ravaged nation which until recently was one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, can provide universal access to antiretrovirals for people living with HIV, why can’t others? If Cambodia had identified that only around 50 per cent of pregnant women were being tested for HIV and decided to scale up services to turn that around why couldn’t others do the same? The turn around on mother to child transmission is impressive. According to UNICEF, across the country, 921 health facilities (92 per cent) offered HIV counselling and testing to pregnant women attending antenatal care in 2010 in comparison to only 30 in 2005. As a result 230,725 expecting mothers were tested for HIV in 2010 – three times the number tested in 2008.

This good news should only make us more determined to be creative and find new ways of implementing science on the ground so that millions more of affected populations can enjoy a better quality of care and treatment, a better quality life and thousands of people can be prevented from getting infected. I expect spirited discussion on issues like improving access to testing, care and treatment at the IAS 2013 conference in June and the latest developments on paediatric care and post-treatment controllers that have so swept the headlines this year.

In the back of our minds though and in honour of those who are no longer with us, let us not forget the good fight – AIDS can be ended if governments are serious about doing so.

Adeeba Kamarulzaman is the director of the Center of Excellence for Research in AIDS and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. She is the Local Co Chair of the 7th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention being held in Kuala Lumpur, June 30-July 3.