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The International AIDS Conference 2010 saw more than 20 000 policymakers, experts and advocates from nearly 185 countries come together in Geneva to assess efforts to combat the pandemic. While being careful to underline the scale of remaining challenges, there were also encouraging signs of progress.

During the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005, delegates set the year 2010 as the target for universal access to HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care. As the deadline passes by, delegates at the International AIDS Conference 2010 had to acknowledge that the target of universal access by 2010 will not be reached. The mood of the conference, however, was not despairing.

In the run up to the conference the World Health Organization announced that by the end of 2009 an estimated 5.2 million people in low and middle-income countries were receiving life-saving HIV treatment. This figure includes an estimated 1.2 million people who started treatment since the end of 2008. "This is the largest increase in people accessing treatment in a single year. It is an extremely encouraging development," says Dr Hiroki Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases.

A report published during the conference, whose authors included renowned development economist Jeffrey Sachs and South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, noted that around 67 000 children were born free of HIV in 2008 as a result of programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission. About 17% fewer new HIV infections occurred in 2008 than in 2001. Uganda nearly doubled the number of people on treatment from 100,000 to 200,000 in just the last two years. Globally, between 2003 and 2008, treatment scale-up has grown ten-fold in low- and -middle income countries. The authors go on to describe the global AIDS response over the past decade as “one of the greatest public health achievements in history”.

The mood of the conference was further buoyed at the news of recently published research results showing that a trial HIV treatment had proved very effective in preventing HIV transmission. The testing of a microbicide vaginal gel in South Africa showed that the product reduced the risk of HIV infection by 39 percent overall, but by 54 percent among women who adhered to the instructions most consistently.


Jean-Frangois Delfraissy, executive director of France’s National Agency for AIDS Research (ANRS), has called the research “one of the greatest (medical) trials in the history of HIV,” but has also warned that even such an effective treatment must form part of a wider arsenal of methods, including safe sex and male circumcision.

The International AIDS Conference 2010 also saw the launch of a UNAIDS High Level Commission on HIV Prevention. The Commission, composed of political, business, activist and philanthropic leaders, will lead a political action campaign over the coming year to galvanize commitment at the highest level in support of effective HIV prevention programmes. The commission should ''transform society'' and ''produce a new movement'', Michel Sadibe, UNAIDS' executive director, said at the launch of the commission. The commission includes retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who helped identify HIV, former French president Jacques Chirac, and Mohammed el-Baradei, former executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.