February 04, 2014 00:00 By PONGPHON SARNSAMAK
WORLD LEADERS are being urged to renew their response to HIV/Aids to more effectively handle the pandemic.
“We are far from the end of Aids, I am afraid. We can do much better and we can bring down the number of infections to a very low level. I strongly believe that we need a vaccine, but [in the meantime] we can do better with the current tools,” said Prof Peter Piot, a former executive director of UNAIDS.
He spoke at an academic seminar entitled “Perspective on Current HIV/Aids Situation and Effective Responses by the Prince Mahidol Award Laureates for 2013”, organised by the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute last week.
Piot, a director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London, was one of four prominent health experts awarded the 2013 Prince Mahidol Award. He has played a key role in providing people living with HIV better access to life-saving drugs.
In a bid to contain the spread of HIV/Aids, current measures must be renewed, he said, adding that until a cure is found, a combination of prevention efforts and providing sustained anti-retroviral therapy must continue.
Working with affected people in their own community was very important as well.
“Those people who are vulnerable are not welcomed by health services, such as men who have sex with men or injecting drug users, who need special programmes for their own communities,” Piot said.
Stigma and discrimination also need to be addressed through legal reforms as long as homosexuality and sex work remain criminalised in many countries around the world, he said.
Research and development on a vaccine and cure were significant tools to combat the disease in the near future also, he added.
Piot’s comments were echoed by his fellow award recipients.
Dr Anthony Fauci, a director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “Before we talk about the world without Aids, we should talk about the world without the ongoing Aids pandemic.”
Professor Dr David D Ho, a director and chief executive officer of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre in New York, said the world was still far from ending the Aids pandemic, as there is no cure or vaccine, despite studies suggesting a vaccine might be possible.
But in the eyes of Dr Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank and former director of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s HIV/Aids Department, the world could end the HIV/Aids pandemic if there was a concrete plan and goal to do so.
According to the WHO, HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 36 million lives so far.
There were approximately 35.3 million people living with HIV in 2012. More than 9.7 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries.