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Thirty years on, AIDS fight may shift to treatment focus

Thirty years on, AIDS fight may shift to treatment focus fter 30 years of AIDS prevention efforts, global leaders may now need to shift their focus to spending more on drugs used to treat the disease as new data show this may also be the best way to prevent the virus from spreading. The U.N. General Assembly will take up the issue next week as it assesses progress in fighting the disease — first reported on June 5, 1981 — that has infected more than 60 million people and claimed nearly 30 million lives. Guiding the meeting is groundbreaking new data that shows early treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, can cut its transmission to a sexual partner by 96 percent . "There had been for a long time this artificial dichotomy or artificial tension between treatment versus prevention. Now it is very clear that treatment is prevention and treatment is an important part of a multifaceted combination strategy," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told Reuters. Fauci, who has made AIDS research his life's work, has a big role to play in the discussion of the NIH-funded study made public on May 12. Story: Controversial AIDS cure spurs hope "A month ago, we didn't have that data. People were still arguing. 'Well, we are not so sure if you treat people you are really going to prevent infection,"' Fauci said. "The policy makers need to sit down and say, 'Now that we know this, is this going to be enough incentive to change around our policy?"' That could mean redirecting, or adding to, global spending on fighting AIDS, particularly how much is spent on education or other research versus antiretroviral drugs that allow patients to live with the suppressed disease for many years. In 2010, nearly $16 billion was spent on HIV response in low and middle-income countries, according to the U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS. Report: New AIDS infections dropped since 2001 UNAIDS says at least $22 billion will be needed to combat the disease by 2015, helping avert 12 million new infections and 7.4 million more deaths in the next decade. Globally, the number of people living with HIV rose to 34 million by the end of 2010, from 33.3 million a year earlier, according to figures issued by UNAIDS Friday. There were 26.2 million in 1999. As many as 6.6 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries at the end of 2010, a nearly 22-fold increase since 2001, according to the report. Graying of AIDS: Older Americans at risk for new HIV infection A record 1.4 million people started lifesaving treatment in 2010, more than any year before, according to the report. And at least 420,000 children were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2010, a more than 50 percent increase since 2008, when 275 000 children were on treatment. But in poorer countries, a majority of eligible patients still were not receiving antiretroviral treatment, according to UNAIDS. "It is encouraging to see that treatment is expanding in poor countries - but the pace has to be picked up if the world wants to get ahead of the wave of new infections and make use of the latest science that HIV treatment is also HIV prevention," Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer of Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in a statement. "World leaders meeting at the U.N. AIDS summit next week have the best opportunity to translate the latest science into policies that could break the back of the HIV epidemic. This is not the time for a mediocre response that leaves the job only half done." Fauci says he has already discussed this with policymakers and may make public his views on needed policy changes at the International AIDS Society meeting in Rome. Story: Starting HIV meds quickly helps protects partner "I don't think it's going to be one-size-fits all," Fauci said of the policy approach. "There is going to be certainly a difference between how things are looked at in the developing world and the developed world. And within the developed world, I think it will be a country-by-country issue." UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe noted that AIDS remained "a metaphor for inequality" as the vast majority of patients live in Africa, where every year nearly 400,000 babies are born with HIV.Thirty years on, AIDS fight may shift to treatment focus. He said countries need to start looking at innovative financing to make sure drugs are not just for the rich market. "We need shared responsibility. Every country, rich or poor, must put in its fair share, based on GDP and burden of disease. No country can do it alone -- donors or developing countries," he told a United Nations press conference Friday. Thirty years on, AIDS fight may shift to treatment focus

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