Monday, February 22, 2010

Leading scientist says AIDS could be controlled in five years

One scientist has made the claim that the AIDS epidemic could be controlled within five years. Brian Williams of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis says testing everyone in high risk regions then immediately treating all of those who are found to be HIV positive will control the disease.

From the Times Online, writer Mark Henderson talks to Williams and also gets an opposing viewpoint.

Universal therapy with anti-retroviral drugs would not only save millions of lives but also prevent transmission of HIV by making people who carry the virus less infectious, said Brian Williams, of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (Sacema).

While such an initiative would be expensive at first, costing at least $3 billion (£2 billion) a year in South Africa alone, it would rapidly pay for itself by cutting the cost of caring for Aids patients and reducing the economic damage caused by Aids deaths, Dr Williams told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego.

In the absence of a vaccine, an aggressive treatment programme is the first promising way of controlling a condition that affects 33 million people worldwide and kills 2.1 million every year, he said. It also has the potential to halve tuberculosis infections associated with HIV and Aids.

Two randomised trials of universal testing and treatment are to begin in South Africa shortly, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that it will back the strategy if they prove successful. The approach is also supported by Anthony Fauci, the influential scientist who leads the US National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding further trials in areas of Washington DC and New York where HIV is widespread.

While support for universal testing and treatment is growing, Lisa Power, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that it was unlikely to stop the epidemic. She said people are at their most infectious in the first months after contracting HIV and would probably pass on the virus before they could be tested.

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