Experts raise alarm on cut in HIV research funding

In Paris, France

Researchers on Saturday warned of an impending decrease in donor funding for HIV research.

The researchers warned that major governments were considering cuts in scientific research funding which would be a big blow to the strides so far made in the search for a cure to the killer scourge.

“The conference returns to Paris. It’s here and in the US that the HIV virus was discovered. The two countries have been globally funding leaders on the research and science for HIV response.

Yet, today, we are seeing the countries’ leadership take very different stances on prioritising future investment into HIV science. Where are we headed?” asked Prof Linda Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society.

CURRENT THREATS

She said that as the international leaders on HIV research, the conference will be an opportunity to push back against current threats to HIV research funding.

“This is not the time for the donors to disengage since it’s going to stall projects and cost the countries a big deal,” she said.

Prof Bekker was among  speakers during a journalists’ tour to Institut Pasteur in Paris where HIV was discovered in 1983.

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She said the impact of cutbacks would be severe since more infections were going to be witnessed.

The cut in donor funding was a heated debate during Saturday’s opening of the 9th International Aids Society Conference on HIV Science, a biennial gathering.

RESEARCH

“Continued support for research is essential. We are going to unite to tell the world that research cuts would reverse our progress against HIV and put more lives at risk.

How do we carry out research with the few dollars and ensure that the epidemic is controlled?” asked Prof Jean Francois Delfraissy, one of the researchers who discovered the virus.

She said lack of adequate funding posed a great threat to the targeted 90-90-90 objectives on HIV treatment.

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“Most recently, some governments have said they are no longer releasing money into the global fund. That puts a great deal of fear in, particularly, our Pepfar (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) funded Africa countries like Kenya,” she said.

Prof Delfraissy said the struggle to get the HIV vaccine was already halfway and with the decline, researchers are already facing more problems.

INFECTIONS

“We are likely to start from zero since we will record more infections with no prevention measures,” she said.

The researcher added: “There is no doubt that the huge advances made in HIV treatment over the past 30 years are some of the HIV sciences greatest achievements.

In fact, they are some of the global health defining achievements. We have managed to transform Aids from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease, no mean feat, and how do we move forward with the huge decline in funding?”

She said if research went down, there will be less innovation meaning countries will not be able to handle the prevention any longer.

HIV-NEGATIVE

Prof Bekker gave the example of Kenya which has made tremendous efforts as far as mother to child HIV transmission was concerned and said there were several fundamental issues that needed funding especially the recently launched pre-exposure prophylaxis in the country.

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The new drug is meant to protect HIV-negative people from contracting the virus. It will be given free of charge to anyone at risk of contracting HIV but distribution will be based on Health ministry guidelines.

“We need money to ensure we place more people on treatment and be able to prevent more infections and deaths. This can only be done when we come up with new prevention efforts that need more funds and research science,” she said.

PREVENTION

About 22 Kenyan researchers will showcase the latest developments in HIV prevention science.

There are more than 6,000 HIV professionals from around the world at the event which started on Saturday.

Researchers from Kemri, Centres for Disease Control, National Aids Control Council, Health ministry, National Aids and STI Control Programme will, in addition to examining the latest scientific developments in HIV-related research, also release groundbreaking studies on the virus.

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