AP Medical Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says it’s possible to virtually eliminate HIV-infected births and the U.S. is donating $80 million in new funding to help poor countries reach that goal.
Treating HIV-infected women so that they protect their babies is a key part of the Obama administration’s goal of an AIDS-free generation.
Clinton told the International AIDS Conference Monday that the new money will help get those life-saving drugs to women who now slip through the cracks.
Clinton also says the U.S. is investing millions more to study what works best to protect the highest-risk population in hard hit countries- gay and bisexual men, sex workers and injecting drug users.
Her message: “If we’re going to beat AIDS, we can’t afford to avoid sensitive conversations.”
Earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. AIDS researcher, told the conference that science has provided the tools needed to slash new infections even without a vaccine – if countries will put them in place.
Fauci said it won’t be easy or happen overnight. In his words, “no promises, no dates but we know it can happen.”
Fauci said “we want to get to the end of AIDS” but that “a lot of people, a lot of countries, a lot of regions have a lot to do.”
Topping that list of tools is better treatment of people who already have HIV, so they’re less likely to spread the virus. But Fauci also called male circumcision a “stunningly successful” step, pointing to part of Uganda that’s stressing that step.
Researchers, doctors and patients attending the conference are urging the world’s governments not to cut back on the fight against the epidemic when it is at a turning point.
There is no cure or vaccine yet, but scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus – largely by using treatment not just to save patients but to make them less infectious, too.
“Future generations are counting on our courage to think big, be bold and seize the opportunity before us,” said Dr. Diane Havlir of the University of California, San Francisco, a co-chair of the International AIDS Conference.
“We must resolve together never to go backwards,” Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society, told the conference’s opening session late Sunday.
More than 20,000 scientists, people living with HIV and policy-makers are meeting this week to figure out how to turn some scientific advances into practical protections, valuable additions to those tried-and-true condoms.
Studies show that treating people with HIV early, before they’re sick, not only is life-saving for them but lowers their chances of spreading the virus through sex.
On another front, healthy people can take the daily AIDS medicine Truvada to lower their risk of infection from a sexual partner. Hard-hit countries are grappling with how to try that protection in their highest-risk populations.
Other goals include getting more HIV-infected pregnant women treated to protect their babies, and getting more men circumcised in developing countries to protect them from heterosexual infection.
But money is a big challenge during a global recession – and for countries weary of the fight against a disease with an ever-growing number of people who need care. Today, there are 34.2 million people living with HIV, and while infections are dropping slowly, still 2.5 million are infected every year.
The world spent $16.8 billion fighting AIDS in poor countries, the hardest-hit, last year. But that’s still $7 billion a year shy of the amount needed to nearly double the 8 million people getting life-saving drugs by the world’s goal of 2015.
“This gap is killing people,” UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe told the conference. “My friends, the end of AIDS is not free. It is not too expensive. It is priceless.”
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