Yet another AIDS day went by on 1 December and perhaps, for the first time in many years, there is as much evidence for hope as there is for despair in humanity’s battle against the disease that has gone on for slightly longer than three decades.
The cheeriness lies in that there have been interesting basic research breakthroughs in the way scientists are approaching the problem of designing an HIV vaccine. Several weak spots in HIV’s biological machinery have been identified and there is now a concerted effort from institutions across the world to design a vaccine that specifically targets these virus’ Achilles heels. Before this, much money and effort was spent on just fortifying the immune system from the indefatigable virus’ assault— an approach that has helped deliver effective AIDS medication, but with little long-term protection against the virus itself. Moreover, results from a 2009 trial that tested a combination of potential vaccines showed a 30% reduction in rates of acquiring the infection among a monitored community in Thailand. Thirty per cent is not enough to launch a vaccine, but encouraging enough for scientists to be confident that something new and promising underlies the way the body has been able to stave off HIV infection, when injected with the drugs.
On the other hand, the shaky markets of the euro zone as well as the diminished financial muscle of the US means that less money is now available to be channelled into HIV and AIDS-related mitigation activity. The BBC reported on Friday a joint report by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and Unicef, which shows that after years of considerable increases, international funding for HIV programmes fell last year to $7.6 billion from $8.7 billion. Days before the World AIDS Day, the Global Fund, which routes money from governments and other donors to wards tackling that and other key diseases, announced that it couldn’t give any new grants before 2014 due to “low interest rates and the substantial budget problems in some donor countries”.
A man walks past huge red ribbons symbolizing AIDS awareness that are hung from the walls of the Regional Headquarters of the World Health Organization in Manila, Philippines (AP)
It would be tragic if promising scientific progress on an AIDS vaccine were to be nipped in the bud due to budgetary constraints. There is, therefore, a great need to better manage available funds and make their dispensation extremely efficient so that research, which is by its very nature expensive, doesn’t get compromised.
Are countries justified in cutting anti-AIDS funding? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org