Experts give low marks for AIDS prevention efforts

VIENNA,  (Reuters) – Only 10 percent of countries  have HIV prevention programmes that are well matched to their  national needs, leaving millions at risk of contracting the  incurable virus, AIDS scientists said yesterday.

The Global HIV Prevention Working Group, an international  panel of 50 leading AIDS experts, said many effective HIV  prevention steps are not having anything like the impact they  could because they are often not available to those at the  greatest risk of infection.

In a “report card” published at an international AIDS  conference in Vienna on national efforts to try to prevent new  infections with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes  AIDS, the group found most regions could do a lot better.

“On average the grades that were assigned by the working  group ranged from average to poor, with some failing grades for  some of the key indicators,” Helene Gayle, co-chair of the  Working Group and chief executive of CARE USA, told reporters.

“Our overall finding is not that prevention is failing, but  that we are failing prevention.”

The AIDS virus infects 33.4 million people around the world  and has killed 25 million since the pandemic began in the 1980s.  There is no cure and no vaccine but drugs can keep patients  healthy. Without treatment, the virus destroys the immune  system, leaving patients susceptible to infections and cancer.

Scientists and AIDS experts repeatedly say that the world  cannot “treat its way out” of the AIDS epidemic.

High-profile speakers at the conference, including Bill  Clinton and Bill Gates, have stressed the need to scale up  prevention steps like male circumcision, male and female condom  use, and clean needles or drug substitutes for drug users.

The working group graded the efforts of various sectors —  including national government, international donors, and global  health agencies — and said none had earned good grades.

It found that only half of countries have established  national targets for HIV prevention, and that prevention  programmes are rarely properly monitored.

In areas with highly concentrated epidemics, such as Eastern  Europe and Central Asia where HIV is spreading faster than  anywhere else in the world, less than 5 percent of prevention  spending is targeted at drug users and less than 3 percent at  gay men, it said.

Rates of HIV spread in Eastern Europe and Central  Asia mean about 500 people a day there are newly infected with  the virus, and the epidemic is being driven by risky behaviour  among injecting drug users, sex workers, gay men and other  marginalised groups. Drug users can spread HIV by sharing  needles with an infected person.

Around the Web