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World Leaders at UN Meeting on AIDS Must Research Cure

International AIDS Society (IAS) urges world leaders at UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) to integrate a fourth pillar – HIV Cure research ¬¬¬– into the global response to the epidemic

07 June 2011. Geneva, Switzerland. As world leaders meet this week to review progress and chart the future course of the global AIDS response at the 2011 UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS (UNGASS 2011) in New York, the International AIDS Society (IAS) calls on leaders to ensure the inclusion of HIV cure research and its global strategy into the international HIV agenda and in all discussions, political decisions and funding strategies.

In this historic month – which marks both 30 years since the first reported AIDS cases and 10 years since the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS was adopted – the International AIDS Society is calling on all stakeholders in the global response to AIDS to adopt a new four pillar approach to combating the epidemic, by adding the fourth pillar, “cure”, to the current three pillar approach of “prevention, treatment and care.”

Globally, there are currently 33.3 million people living with HIV and, while much scientific progress has been made over the past three decades -- the greatest being the antiretroviral treatment (ART) which has ensured that millions of people living with HIV/AIDS can lead healthy lives-- there is still no cure for HIV.

Although significant progress has also been made towards scaling up access to antiretroviral treatment, the increase in new infections in certain regions, a decrease in funding, and the fact that under new WHO guidelines HIV patients should be starting their treatment regimens much earlier, means that universal access targets are way off track. As new infections continue to outstrip numbers on treatment by 2 to 1 in resource-limited settings, the scale of unmet need can only increase.

Funding research to develop a functional[1] or sterilizing[2] cure for HIV which could offer people living with the virus an alternative to the burden of a difficult life-long antiretroviral regimen is therefore in our collective economic interest. Furthermore, recent scientific advances and new approaches to tackling viral reservoirs, the main obstacle to finding a cure, strongly suggest that now is the right time to invest in and aggressively pursue an HIV cure.

The International AIDS Society has made HIV cure one of its policy priorities and Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of HIV, Nobel Laureate and IAS President-elect, is currently guiding the development of a global scientific strategy, Towards an HIV Cure . This strategy aims at building a global consensus on the state of the art research in the field of HIV reservoirs and defining scientific priorities that must be addressed to tackle HIV persistence in patients undergoing treatment, the key hurdle impeding any alternative to long-term therapy.

The IAS urges leaders at UNGASS to look towards the example of the eradication of the smallpox virus for motivation to ensure the inclusion of HIV cure research and its global development.

In 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched an ambitious scientific strategy to eradicate smallpox, which was pushed back to the horn of Africa and then to a single last natural case, which occurred in Somalia in 1977. Scientists working on HIV cure research are inspired by the eradication of smallpox, not because of similarities between the smallpox virus and HIV (HIV is a retrovirus, and biologically very different from smallpox), but because of how a clear and focused scientific strategy managed to eradicate a disease which threatened 60% of the world's population, killed every fourth victim, scarred or blinded most survivors, and eluded any form of treatment.

The 2011 High-Level Meeting on AIDS is a unique global opportunity for partners to meet and move the AIDS agenda forward, and the International AIDS Society strongly believes that the inclusion of HIV cure research in the global agenda is a time sensitive priority if we are ever to envisage the eradication of viral reservoirs and subsequently the long-term remission of infected individuals.


[1] Functional cure some HIV genetic material remains in the body, but the patient’s immune defense fully controls any viral rebound, allowing patients to be free of antiretroviral treatment

[2] Sterilizing cure no HIV genetic material can be found in the body, HIV infection is eradicated

*************

About the IAS
The International AIDS Society (IAS) is the world's leading independent association of HIV professionals, with over 16,000 members from more than 196 countries working at all levels of the global response to AIDS. Our members include researchers from all disciplines, clinicians, public health and community practitioners on the frontlines of the epidemic, as well as policy and programme planners. The IAS is the custodian of the biennial International AIDS Conference and lead organizer of the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, which will be held in Rome, Italy in July 2011.

www.iasociety.org | www.ias2011.org

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