NEW YORK, Nov. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AVAC today issued a three-part, science-based agenda for ending the AIDS epidemic within our lifetimes. The new report, titled The End?, is a unique strategic vision encompassing key steps to accelerate impact with existing HIV prevention tools, emerging strategies and longer term research. It identifies critical priorities in each of these areas and advances specific recommendations for both 2012 and for the next decade.
"The past year has seen building excitement about the possibility of ending AIDS in our lifetime. It is an ambitious goal, but a realistic one, provided we have a clear path forward and the will to do what's needed," said Mitchell Warren, AVAC executive director. "The science-based agenda in this year's AVAC Report fills a gap at a critical moment: it describes the full spectrum of actions needed to realize the potential of existing, emerging and long-term biomedical HIV prevention options and change the AIDS response forever."
The report comes at a pivotal moment for the AIDS response. Just weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton committed the U.S. government to realizing an "AIDS-free generation." A recent report from UNAIDS mapped a new framework for AIDS investments which are focused on high-impact, evidence-based strategies. Yet at the same time, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that it has insufficient funds for its next round of grants, effectively delaying any new funding commitments until 2014. Ensuring that the Fund is replenished and continues to support countries worldwide is a top priority for ending AIDS.
"Secretary Clinton and other leaders have put a spotlight on what's possible. Now, it's time to agree on a coherent, long-term plan to make it happen," said Warren. "While our success at ending AIDS is far from assured, the scientific data are speaking loud and clear and expectations are running high. It is essential that funding, implementation and research commitments align. The future of the epidemic hangs in the balance."
Game-changing research advances fuel optimism
Recent studies have demonstrated that antiretroviral (ARV) medications and other tools can prevent HIV transmission, creating new opportunities to accelerate the global decline in new HIV infections:
- In 2006, trials showed that voluntary medical male circumcision can reduce a man's risk of infection from a female partner by about 60 percent.
- In 2011, a large U.S.-funded trial released data showing that starting effective HIV treatment earlier reduced individuals' risk of transmitting HIV by 96 percent.
- In 2009 and 2010, trials of oral and topical pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) using ARV medications in specific populations of HIV-negative people provided proof of concept that PrEP is an effective prevention tool.
- In 2011, scientists identified vaccine-induced immune correlates of risk that help explain the positive finding from the RV144 AIDS vaccine trial—the first to demonstrate that a vaccine can have an impact on HIV transmission—and point the way to discovery of an effective AIDS vaccine.
AVAC Report 2011 outlines priorities for success
The agenda for action in the AVAC Report covers three major priority areas. Each area demands action today, while the dividends in terms of impact on the epidemic will be seen in the short, medium and long term:
1) Deliver today's proven strategies at scale, for immediate impact on the epidemic.
Scale up innovative HIV testing programs to identify people who can benefit from prevention and treatment; expand access to treatment to preserve health and prevent transmission; and realize the full potential of voluntary medical male circumcision, a so-far underutilized tool.
For 2012, specific global goals include achieving universal access to ARVs at CD4 counts of 350 or below; and ensuring that relevant countries have long-term plans in place to roll out voluntary medical male circumcision with the goal of achieving 80 percent voluntary circumcision rates.
2) Demonstrate and roll out emerging tools, including PrEP and microbicides, for even greater impact in five to 10 years.
Quickly establish clear plans to understand how and for whom these promising tools might work; launch pilot projects to determine their best uses in different populations; and then prioritize their use in the populations, and in combinations, where their potential impact is greatest.
For 2012, global goals include swift implementation of pilot projects, establishing a clear pathway for confirmatory research on the tenofovir-based microbicide gel, and building and maintaining a pipeline of longer-acting options.
3) Develop long-term solutions, including an effective vaccine and a cure.
Sustain funding to capitalize on recent scientific advances that have energized the research field.
A key 2012 goal is to close funding gaps for trials that are needed to pursue leads from the RV144 vaccine trial. Such trials are increasingly threatened by potential research budget cuts in the U.S. and other nations. In addition, it is increasingly important to define how a vaccine could impact combination prevention.
Success hinges on sustained financing, used wisely
The report urges that resources for HIV prevention be allocated for greatest possible impact. Where necessary, funding that supports low-impact activities should be reprogrammed, based on evidence, to further reduce infections and save more lives. Moreover, AVAC argues that to end the AIDS epidemic, the field needs to define, evaluate and implement combination prevention in every community affected by HIV.
"If we're serious about ending the epidemic, then we all need to make certain that precious resources are put where they're needed most," said Warren. "And we need to ensure that adequate resources are available. We cannot meet these ambitious goals if the Global Fund, PEPFAR and other essential programs are not adequately funded."
In launching the report, AVAC called on the United States, global health donors and developing countries to increase funding for scale-up of interventions including HIV testing, treatment and voluntary medical male circumcision. At the same time, renewed promise in the vaccine research field can only be pursued through sustained support from the U.S. and other research sponsors.
"Today's exciting science comes at one of the most challenging and frustrating economic times," said Warren. "But the case for investing in the AIDS fight is the strongest it has ever been. If we spend more today – and spend it more wisely – we can save money over the long term and rid the world of one of the most devastating and prolonged epidemics in history."
The full AVAC Report 2011: The End?, along with AVAC's Playbook 2012, podcasts, graphics and other materials about ending the epidemic, are available at www.avac.org/report2011.
About AVAC: Founded in 1995, AVAC is a non-profit organization that uses education, policy analysis, advocacy and a network of global collaborations to accelerate the ethical development and global delivery of AIDS vaccines, male circumcision, microbicides, PrEP and other emerging HIV prevention options as part of a comprehensive response to the pandemic. More information at www.avac.org.