Thousands of scientists, politicians and advocates descended on Washington, DC, this week for the first International AIDS Conference to be held on American soil in more than 20 years.
Notable attendees included American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Elton John and Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the first person ever to be cured of AIDS.
In an interview with CBC, Dr Evan Wood, lead researcher with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said that with proper funding the end of AIDS is an attainable goal.
Wood emphasized that the funds world governments spend waging the war on drugs could be better spent. “One of the messages coming out of the conference is how putting energy into drug law enforcement and engaging in this cat-and-mouse game with drug addicts really contributes to the spread of HIV and does not reduce availability or use of drugs,” he told CBC.
Wood estimates each AIDS patient costs Canadian taxpayers $500,000 in medical costs.
As for the situation south of the border, Clinton vowed that America will not back down in its fight against the disease.
"We are all here today because we want to bring about that moment where we stop adding names, when we can come to a gathering like this one and not talk about the fight against AIDS but instead commemorate the birth of a generation that is free of AIDS,” she said.
Clinton’s AIDS-free generation would see no child born with HIV; children, teens and adults living at a significantly lower risk of contracting the virus than they are now; and people who do contract the virus treated promptly to stop its progression into AIDS.
Part of Clinton’s vision also includes the circumcision of all baby boys, something I know several gay men would be against.
Brown, the “cured” man who is also known as the “Berlin patient,” addressed the conference Tuesday, saying his doctors have told him he is “cured of AIDS and will remain cured."
An HIV-positive American living in Germany, Brown developed leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2007. German doctors located a donor with marrow that had a rare genetic mutation that blocks a receptor known as CCR5, which HIV needs to enter immune cells. After two transplants, his leukemia went into remission and doctors declared him “cured” of HIV.
American researchers say they found traces of HIV in Brown’s tissues, but he maintains that any remnants of the virus are dead and will not replicate.
From red and white blood cells back to the red and white flag: high-profile AIDS experts are calling on Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to endorse the conference’s plan to end AIDS. Aglukkaq says she will consider it.
A YouTube video has surfaced showing Dr Philip Berger attempting to question Aglukkaq at the conference about another pressing health issue: cuts to refugee health benefits. In the video Aglukkaq tells Berger to “do more research.” Watch the uncomfortable exchange below.
The International AIDS Conference wraps up July 27.