AIDS DRUGS ARE MOSTLY UNAVAILABLE
The statistics were sobering as the
biennial 14th International AIDS Conference got
underway, reports OutUK Correspondent Rex Wockner from Barcelona.
More than 20 million people have died of AIDS and some
40 million more are HIV-infected. By the year 2020,
another 68 million may be dead, says UNAIDS, the Joint
United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
The drugs that keep HIV from progressing to AIDS are
mostly unavailable around the world. Only about
700,000 of the 40 million people infected are believed
to have access to an antiretroviral cocktail. That's
less than 2 percent.
The problem is, for the most part, cost. Drug
companies charge $12,000 to $15,000 a year per person
for treatment -- far beyond the means of everyone
except the wealthy and people with full access to
First World health-care systems.
Under pressure, some companies have lowered the price
of their AIDS drugs in some Third World nations, but
not enough that people can afford them. An exception
is Brazil, which ignores international patents and
produces generic AIDS drugs.
"We are only at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic,"
said UNAIDS Director Peter Piot. "Collectively, we
have grossly, grossly underestimated how bad this was
going to be. ... It's frightening. It is by far the
biggest epidemic that humanity has known in absolute
AIDS VACCINE "READY IN FIVE YEARS"
The International Aids Conference in Barcelona has been told that a potential Aids
vaccine could be ready within five years. The US firm, VaxGen, says the vaccine
could be in use in five years rather than the 10 years as previously predicted.
VaxGen boss, Donald Francis, said the vaccine worked on chimpanzees and he was
optimistic about the results of human trials, due to be published next year.
The vaccine will be part of the biggest-ever HIV trial due to begin later this year
in Thailand with the involvement of 16,000 people. To be granted a licence they'll
have to show the vaccine is effective in at
least a third of patients.
As the conference got underway, therapeutic vaccines
and entry inhibitors were generating some buzz.
Therapeutic vaccines are given to people who are
already infected to stimulate their immune systems to
Entry inhibitors will be the next class of anti-HIV
drug to arrive on the market, joining the protease
inhibitors and reverse-transcriptase inhibitors now
available. Entry inhibitors, which must be injected,
work earlier in the infection process than other
drugs, thwarting HIV's attempt to attach to an
immune-system cell in the first place.
T-20 is expected to be the first entry inhibitor to
become generally available, probably in less than a
Just prior to the opening of the conference on July 7,
several hundred protesters calling themselves ATTN
(AIDS Therapeutic Treatment Now) marched on the
Campaigners demand universal
worldwide access to the drugs that control HIV
Photo by Rex Wockner.
A flyer said their demand was "antiretroviral
treatment for 2 million people living with and dying
from HIV/AIDS before the 2004 International AIDS
Conference in Bangkok."
This could be achieved, they said, via drastic
reductions in the prices of AIDS drugs and/or by
lifting laws that prevent generic copying of the
The organization also is demanding lower prices in the
developed world, where health-care costs continually
increase significantly faster than the inflation rate
due, in large part, to the price of pharmaceuticals.
ATTN was created by the Network of AIDS Communities of
South Africa, the Uganda Business Coalition on
HIV/AIDS, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation from Los
Angeles and AHF's Global Immunity project.
The opening plenary session was unremarkable except
for the speech by Spanish Minister of Health and
Consumer Affairs Celia Villalobos. No one heard what
she said because several hundred Spanish delegates
screamed and blew whistles throughout her entire
BAREBACKING TROUBLES IN THE USA
In the U.S., said a spokesman for the D.C.-based
national lobby/policy group AIDS Action, one of the
biggest AIDS-related problems nowadays is barebacking
-- gay men deliberately not using condoms during
casual sexual encounters.
"There is the whole notion that AIDS is over in the
United States, that it's not a problem any more,"
Director of Public Policy Scott Brawley said in an
interview after the opening plenary.
"Prevention messages are not working. We do have gay
men barebacking. We have risk groups sharing needles
again. We've got heterosexuals that have no idea
what's going on. We have a whole generation of people
under the age of 30 that don't remember the AIDS
epidemic, that think it's nothing more than, 'Hell,
you take a couple of pills and you'll be fine.'"
Brawley said he did not really have any good ideas on
how to stop gay men from barebacking.
"My honest response, as a gay man, is that things are
going to have to get worse again before they'll ever
get better," he said. "Resistant HIV, an explosion of
HIV, something that may go wrong with the medications.
You never know when medications will fail."
The conference runs until July 12, when the closing
plenary session will be addressed by former U.S.
President Bill Clinton, who is the advisory board
chair of the International AIDS Trust, and former
South African President Nelson Mandela, who is
honorary co-chair of the International AIDS Trust.