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20 Jul, 2010 05:50

AIDS treatment for all

Breakthroughs and protests have been marking the international AIDS conference in Vienna.

The World Health Organisation says revelations of a new vaginal gel promising to significantly reduce HIV infections have given hope to many women.

However, human rights activists say the key to curbing the disease is access to universal care. Thousands marched in the Austrian capital complaining that medical advances mean nothing if patients cannot get treatment.

They blame wealthy nations for not giving enough funds to the cause.

The executive director of the UN AIDS Agency says money is essential to continue the fight against the disease.

“Of course we are moving from the period of abundance to a period of scarcity. Of course we know the Europe is facing a major financial crisis. But it’s not enough – it is not the reason to flat line, to scale down.”

Some of the fundamental assumptions about HIV and AIDS and their treatment have been questioned at the AIDS 2010 conference. There has been a great deal of debate to do with funding and treatment strategies.

Contributors have been asking to ensure value for money and efficient delivery of services to fight HIV and AIDS, especially given the tough conditions that came about as a result of the global financial meltdown.

AIDS, which the United Nations says has killed 25 million people, is classed as a “global epidemic”. However, there are some scientists who counter this view with radically different opinions of their own.

According to Professor Peter Duesberg from the University of California, Berkeley, HIV is just another virus. Duesberg says the world has been brainwashed into thinking AIDS is an infectious disease.

”It is a lifestyle disease,” he said. Professor Duesberg’s opinions on AIDS being a sexually transmitted disease are also far from the mainstream medical view.

“In order to pick up the virus from somebody who has it, you have to have thousands of sexual contacts – with somebody who is positive, not counting dates with negative ones,” he said.

No one argues that HIV/AIDS is a problem. It is the causes and effects of immunodeficiency diseases which are the focus of debate and disagreement in the medical community and those concerned with the infection.

Charlene Cotton says HIV saved her life – not something heard very often.

“My life before HIV was a sad story,” she told RT. “I used to go weeks and weeks to get high, get high until I passed out.”

Seven years ago, an HIV diagnosis prompted her to change her lifestyle.

“I have been clean for six years,” she said. “HIV started the ball of my new life.”

Now, Charlene takes a cocktail of HIV-fighting drugs every day and says it is like fighting any other disease.

In the US, Obama’s new strategy is mostly focused on the domestic fight with HIV and AIDS. For the first time, the US national AIDS plan specifically targets gay and bisexual men and African-Americans.

Ron Simmons – who is black, gay and HIV positive – says targeting risk groups is actually a good thing and more efficient. He heads a support group for gay, HIV-positive, black men.

“I was on the wave of sexual revolution,” he said. “When I found out I was positive I was not surprised by it.”

While acknowledging that lifestyle has a great deal to do with HIV diagnosis, Ron says people should avoid social stigmatization.

”Do not get into how you got sick. That is not important how you got sick,” he said. “The fact is you are sick.”

However, some scientists at the forefront of the battle against AIDS say that dealing with how it is contracted remains the key to its prevention while continuing to search for a cure.

Human rights activists say the key to curbing the disease is access to universal care.

A group of AIDS activists has filed a complaint with the UN against the United States. They claim President Obama's policies favor multi-national pharmaceutical companies, raising the cost of treatment.

Sean Flynn from the Washington College of Law says the move will have an impact on patients worldwide.

“The US continues to sanction developing countries for not escalating intellectual property policies beyond [what] is required by the World Trade Organization agreements. And the impact of those escalations will be less affordable medication in developing countries,” he says.

AIDS activist Matthew Kavanagh, who attended the Vienna conference, agrees.

“We are actually complaining about the fact that unfortunately the Obama administration is continuing some Bush-era policies that said that they are going to threaten countries with trade sanctions for simply trying to make medicines more affordable to their people, including HIV medicines,” he said.

At the same time, some like Neville Hodgkinson – a journalist specializing in AIDS – believe that scientists are misdirecting their efforts.

I started writing about [AIDS] 25 years ago, and held the conventional view that AIDS is caused by a new virus, when that theory was put forward in 1980s. But over the years I have come to the conclusion that scientists, who have been challenging that conclusion, have got a very strong point,” Hodgkinson told RT.