NEW YORK, Nov. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AVAC today issued a "top five" list of global actions needed in 2013 to accelerate HIV prevention efforts and preserve the opportunity to end the AIDS epidemic. The recommendations address urgent, unresolved challenges that threaten the delivery of powerful new HIV prevention methods that could help dramatically reduce the 2.5 million new HIV infections that occur worldwide every year. They include critical actions to speed access to HIV treatment, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and to safeguard vital new research on vaccines, microbicides, other HIV prevention options and a cure.
"Recent scientific breakthroughs give us reason to be optimistic like never before, but our chances of success are already imperiled," said Mitchell Warren, AVAC executive director. "Right now, the world isn't moving as fast as it should be to begin ending the epidemic. There is still time to get back on a winning pace but only with focused, aggressive action now. This can be the year that HIV prevention begins to achieve its potential – in fact, it has to be."
The priorities are featured in a new report, Achieving the End: One Year and Counting, which offers AVAC's critical assessment of progress achieved since global leaders began to discuss the opportunity to "begin to end AIDS" in late 2011. The report reflects input from HIV prevention leaders across a broad spectrum.
"We have a narrow window to translate the past year's excitement into life-saving changes on the ground," said Dr. Helen Rees, Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) in South Africa and a member of AVAC's board of directors. "The possibility of ending AIDS is very much alive but depends on much bolder leadership, increased coordination and agreement on a clear set of short-term priorities."
"The world needs immediate answers to the question, 'What now?', and then it needs to act on them," said Warren. "We've identified what we believe are the five HIV prevention priorities that can make the greatest possible difference in the coming year. Whether we're on pace to end AIDS in a year's time will depend in large part on our success in these areas."
AVAC's priority recommendations for 2013 are as follows:
- End confusion about "combination prevention" – In 2012, there was long-overdue recognition that different countries will need to implement different combinations of HIV prevention interventions for different populations at risk. But the hard work of defining those combinations and establishing priorities has not been done. In 2013, donors, policy makers and civil society need to be held accountable for choosing, implementing and evaluating the right packages of interventions for specific circumstances.
- Close the gaps in the HIV "treatment cascade" – Antiretroviral treatment not only improves and prolongs the lives of those infected, it is among the most powerful HIV prevention strategies available, reducing the risk that an infected person will pass on HIV by up to 96 percent. But only a small proportion of people diagnosed with HIV are linked to antiretroviral treatment and an even smaller share stay on treatment and have their HIV infection suppressed to levels low enough to prevent transmission to others. A range of studies is looking at ways to narrow this gap, but these efforts are uncoordinated and incomplete. In 2013, researchers and funders need to convene and establish a clear research and implementation agenda to close the gaps in the treatment cascade.
- Prepare for new non-surgical male circumcision devices – In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to approve new male circumcision devices that could eliminate the need for surgery, speed recovery and lower costs in many of the 14 priority African countries where VMMC could reduce HIV infections by 20 percent. While the new devices may not be right for every country or setting, there could be months or years of lost opportunities unless national health leaders immediately take action to evaluate their benefits, costs and optimal uses.
- Define and roll out needed PrEP demonstration projects – Global health agencies including WHO and UNAIDS have said they are awaiting the results of real-world demonstration projects before they can provide guidance on the use of PrEP – yet there is no clarity on what range of studies is needed, and few are under way. By the end of 2013, a core set of studies must be defined and moving ahead.
- Safeguard HIV prevention research funding – New momentum on research into HIV vaccines, microbicides and other new tools is threatened due to the possibility of federal budget sequestration in the US and similar pressures in other countries. The potential cuts could slow or halt progress on some of the most promising HIV prevention research in many years. Policy makers must have the courage to preserve this vital research in 2013.
"The most urgent questions about new prevention tools have been clear for months or even years, and yet the work to answer them is barely under way," said Warren. "That's as unconscionable as it is unnecessary. Millions of lives depend on our ability to pick up the pace."
The new recommendations build on AVAC's long-term agenda for global HIV prevention efforts, issued in late 2011. That report, titled simply The End?, established near-, medium- and long-term goals for delivering available prevention interventions, demonstrating potential impact of emerging tools such as PrEP and microbicides, and developing essential new tools, including AIDS vaccines. In addition to the five key priorities for 2013, AVAC's new report includes key updates to the long-term agenda for global HIV prevention.
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.