I have just returned from the XVII International AIDS Conference. I always feel very optimistic after attending this event and proud to be working in the HIV field. I suppose that’s how these events are supposed to make you feel. This meeting is held every two years. The first was held in 1985. Not only is it the biggest AIDS conference in the world, but the biggest conference on a global health issue. At each conference I am overwhelmed at the amount of energy, enthusiasm and resources being focused on this disease. And every year I see the world’s resolve and commitment increasing. The number of participants in Mexico totaled 25,000 - the biggest yet. I noticed a couple of interesting developments at this year’s event.
First is a subtle shift I’ve noticed over the past few years. The meeting started as primarily a platform for doctors and scientists to share research and clinical findings. Today, that is no longer the case. In fact, there were relatively few scientific breakthroughs making headlines from the event. The meeting seems to have evolved into a platform to draw global attention to the pandemic and to the various players who are working on the problem. This year the networking and publicity aspects seem to have eclipsed the scientific aspects. And that’s OK. We have the lower-key IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (the second biggest gathering of HIV experts) as the major platform for announcing breakthroughs in research and pooling scientific knowledge. With the level of complexity of the HIV problem, I would say both conferences serve vital purposes in the effort to overcome this disease.
Another change I noticed at this year’s conference was an increased focus on the role of diagnostics in managing HIV across the developing world. This is a natural and very welcome development arising from the increased availability of ARVs across these regions. In 2007, the efforts of organizations around the world put one million more people in the developing world on ARVs, bringing the total up to three million. With the greater prevalence of ARVs has come an increased awareness of how important monitoring is if those drugs are to do the most good for patients. Specifically, this underscores the need for a viral load testing platform, like our RT-platform, that can provide the greatest access to patients in the developing world and beyond. These sentiments were articulated by several speakers and presenters at the conference, most notably UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot and
President Bill Clinton.
During one of the sessions, Peter Piot stressed the importance of proper monitoring as a vital component of success in managing HIV. President Bill Clinton also underscored this when he told of how things are changing in his foundation from a focus on supplying drugs, to expanding into providing proper diagnostics. In a keynote address he stated, “When we started our work six years ago, we focused on lowering the cost of drugs and tests needed to be in treatment…and over the years we have expanded our work to include a wider range of IRBs in diagnostics.”
The Burnet Institute, who has done so much great work in the battle against HIV, presented a poster on ExaVir Load. The Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, Maryland added four posters of their own where ExaVir Load was used to gather viral load data. Inside our own booth, we could sense a major shift this year with more people aware of the importance of proper monitoring. We had more visitors coming by and asking us about our assay than ever before.
We have many challenges before us, but I left Mexico with a feeling that the world’s AIDS community is making progress and moving in the right direction.