Male Circumcision, New Antiretrovirals, Genetic Engineering Most Promising HIV Prevention, Treatment Methods, Conference Delegates Say
The emergence of new antiretroviral drugs, genetic engineering and male circumcision are the latest and most promising HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment methods, delegates attending the 4th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Sydney, Australia, said on Tuesday, Reuters reports (Perry, Reuters, 7/24).
Delegates attending the conference, which will end on Wednesday, are expected to present studies and discuss advances in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The conference aims to improve understanding of HIV/AIDS, treatments for the disease and methods to prevent it from spreading worldwide (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/23).
Robert Bailey, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago's School of Public Health, at the conference Tuesday said studies conducted in Uganda and Kenya -- along with other studies in the U.S., Zambia and Malawi -- have found that male circumcision reduces female-to-male transmission of HIV by 60%. According to Bailey, male circumcision -- which the World Health Organization and UNAIDS have recommended to help reduce transmission of the virus -- could prevent two million new HIV cases and 300,000 AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa over 10 years.
"The challenge ahead for us is how to roll out circumcision safely ... and to persuade leaders in countries that it is going to help their populations," Bailey said (Lee, Reuters, 7/24). He added, "Circumcision is not just simply a medical procedure, it's tied up in a complex web of cultural and religious practices and beliefs, so it's not easy for politicians and ministries of health to very quickly come out in favor of circumcision in countries where it's not traditionally practiced." Bailey said leaders in developing countries need to endorse circumcision because international health authorities will not impose it because of concerns about appearing culturally insensitive. "But the time to act is right now," he said, adding, "Delaying the roll-out of circumcision could be causing more harm, not just because more people are getting infected with HIV than necessary, but also, people are going to unqualified practitioners" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/24).
According to Reuters, women in Africa likely will be the driving force behind male circumcision as an HIV prevention method because traditionally they are associated with ensuring hygiene in their communities. "Women, more than men, equate circumcision with improved hygiene," Bailey said (Lee, Reuters, 7/24).
Michel Kazatchkine -- executive director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- said, "I believe that the evidence is overwhelming for the efficacy of circumcision," adding, "And if countries come to us ... I see no reason at all why we wouldn't fund that" (Foley, AP/Forbes, 7/24).
Emerging Antiretrovirals, Genetic Engineering
Delegates at the conference also discussed emerging antiretrovirals, including integrase inhibitors, and techniques such as genetic engineering to treat HIV/AIDS, Reuters reports.
Joseph Eron, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, at the conference said recent research has shown that new classes of antiretrovirals could offer treatment to HIV-positive people who have become resistant to first-line drugs. "I think that while it will take some time, some of these new agents will also be very useful in the developing world where we are seeing the emergence of resistant virus," Eron said.
According to Reuters, human trials of a new technique of genetically modifying the blood stem cells and CD4+ T cells of people living with HIV and reintroducing the cells back into the body are about to begin. John Rossi, head of biological sciences at the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope, said this technique is a "permanent modification of the cells. As long as the cells persist in the patient, they will be resistant to further infection." He added, "We realize that this is not a treatment that will be applied universally," but the treatment should allow some HIV-positive people to reduce drug doses.
Rossi and Eron also called on drug companies to make new drugs available to developing countries, Reuters reports (Perry, Reuters, 7/24).
The American Foundation for AIDS Research on Tuesday at the conference announced the launch of a global initiative to curb the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men, the Associated Press reports. According to statistics released by amfAR, the number of HIV cases is increasing among MSM in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and less than 5% of MSM have access to HIV-related health care.
Kevin Frost, CEO of amfAR, said, "It is estimated that one in 20 MSM have access to appropriate HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services." He added, "This is a massive failure of the HIV/AIDS response globally and I think one that needs to be addressed."
The initiative aims to raise $3 million during the next three years to provide grants for HIV/AIDS education and research among MSM in developing countries (Associated Press, 7/24). The initiative also will support grassroots MSM organizations and advocate for increased global attention and funding for HIV/AIDS programs that are specific to MSM. Funding also will be allocated to epidemiological, demographic and policy research to inform more effective HIV prevention efforts (amfAR release, 7/24). "Empowering" MSM and "other marginalized groups to protect themselves from HIV is one of the world's most urgent health priorities," UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said (Associated Press, 7/24).
Kaisernetwork.org will serve as the official webcaster of the IAS conference. Individuals can sign up for a free daily update e-mail and find more information about conference webcasts online.
Video of the session that discusses circumcision, emerging antiretrovirals and genetic engineering is available online.
An amfAR video about the MSM initiative is available online.
PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" on Monday included a discussion about the IAS conference with AIDS researcher David Ho and Donald McNeil of the New York Times ("The Charlie Rose Show," PBS, 7/23). Video of the segment will be available online later this week.
Related Opinion Pieces
- Alan Oxley, Australian: The global fight against HIV/AIDS has become so "highly politicized that publicity-hungry activism is overshadowing the real causes" of the disease's resurgence in the Asia-Pacific region, Oxley, chair of World Growth, writes in an Australian opinion piece. "Improving prevention makes sense, but there is no need to give up on treatment yet," Oxley writes, adding that the "challenge is to improve the delivery of services to those who need them." What is needed are "efforts focused on how to mobilize private providers in developing countries to deliver those services," Oxley concludes (Oxley, Australian, 7/24).
- Andrew Hewett, Sydney Morning Herald: The cost of second-line antiretrovirals is "set to become a major issue" in efforts to provide medicine and care to people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries, Hewett, executive director of Oxfam Australia, writes in a Morning Herald opinion piece. He adds, "It's time that a responsible global citizen, such as Australia, took decisive action to guarantee the supply of [low-cost] drugs to the world's poor wherever and whenever needed" (Hewett, Sydney Morning Herald, 7/23).