New push aims to find cure for Aids virus

By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News

image captionHIV finds ways to elude the body's immune system

More investment is needed to find a cure for HIV, the new head of the International Aids Society has said.

Bertrand Audoin admits this might take as long as 25 years, but he says a cure is the only way to keep ahead of the HIV epidemic in the long term during tough financial times.

Sunday sees the 30th anniversary of the first medical reports of a new illness.

Some experts have warned that talk of a cure could lead to false hopes, and developing a vaccine would be better.

Mr Audoin said: "It is the right moment - from the scientific and financial point of view - to invest more time and money in researching a cure.

"There is already some basic science in this area. We know that some people who are on HIV treatment can contain the virus in a way which makes them unable to infect other people.

"So we think further work could help us develop a functional cure, which would allow the virus to remain latent in the body, without people feeling sick or needing treatment. That's the goal."

Fast epidemic

Mr Audoin ran a French Aids organisation called Sidaction, before heading the IAS - an organisation of 18,000 health professionals and activists.

He said: "At the moment, for every one person beginning treatment in badly affected countries in Africa, two people get infected with HIV in that time.

"So treatment with anti-retroviral drugs isn't the only solution in the long run.

"It could take 25 years before we find a cure - and the hardest part will be convincing donor governments and other funding organisations to put money into research.

"But if we don't invest in the science, the epidemic will go faster than our work on it - and the financial situation will make it more difficult to put people on treatment."

False hopes

The IAS has convened a working group of international researchers to develop a strategy that might lead to a cure. It is due to deliver a draft report at the end of the year.

The group is co-chaired by Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering HIV.

A virologist at University College London, Professor Robin Weiss, said: "Much as I would love to see one, the word 'cure' can lead to false hopes.

"I don't believe you can cure HIV infection, but you can keep the amount of virus down.

"I would prefer to see a vaccine so we can stop people being infected in the first place. But we're still years away from having one for HIV."

Next week, heads of governments will attend a high-level UN meeting on Aids in New York. Negotiations have already begun to look at the wording of a final declaration.

Mr Audoin said: "Some of us are fighting for very simple words to be put in the declaration - for example, mentioning condoms - but we are not sure if that will happen.

"There is a trend in some governments to think that we've done enough on HIV, or that everything has failed. We need to keep developing our programmes."

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