IAS 2011: AIDS at a watershed moment

'Remember that history will judge us.'

The global AIDS response is at "a scientific watershed" that includes both dramatic recent advances against HIV and the formidable challenge of extending the benefits to impoverished nations. That was the common theme recently in Rome at the opening of the 6th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2011), where some 5,000 researchers, scientists, clinicians, community leaders and policy experts gathered.

"The excitement around these advances in research — whether they be the CAPRISA 004 vaginal gel, the HPTN 052 study on treatment as prevention, talk around the path towards a cure, or the encouraging signs on PrEP and vaccines — is very much driving the debates and discussions," said Elly Katabira, IAS 2011 International Chair and International AIDS Society President.

Translating this momentum to reduced infections and better courses of treatment for high-risk populations was a common subtext at the conference.

"IAS 2011 delegates, like many professionals working in the international response to HIV, are understandably excited about recent scientific breakthroughs," said IAS 2011 Local Co-Chair Stefano Vella, Research Director at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS). "However, we need to ensure that the advances we are making in research such as the now proven concept of antiretroviral treatment as a means of HIV prevention — is translated into action for people in developing countries.

In an opening session keynote speech, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that gaps in access to HIV treatment within and between countries and key populations were an affront to humanity that can and must be closed by innovations in developing, pricing and delivering treatments and commodities for HIV, TB, malaria, reproductive health and other health issues.

"We have to remember that history will judge us not by our scientific breakthroughs, but how we apply them," said Sidibé.

The IAS Conference series focuses on the translation of research into practice, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The conference revealed promising new data across several key scientific tracks — particularly in the areas of HIV treatment as prevention, HIV cure efforts, new drugs and new antiretroviral combinations, and the scale up of effective prevention and treatment interventions in resource-limited settings. From a scientific perspective, there was an air of optimism that hasn't been seen since the mid-1990s, when the promise of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) began to be realized.