by Jasmine Leong
On the 30th of June 2013, the 7th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention 2013 was held at the KL Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur. The conference was officiated by the IAS President and Nobel Laureate Prof. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, Director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit at the Institute Pasteur in Paris and International Conference Chair for IAS 2013, and Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Local Co-Chair of IAS 2013 and Director of Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS (CERiA) of University of Malaya.
It was less than three years ago, November 2010, in Geneva, the International AIDS Society (IAS) announced Kuala Lumpur to be the host of the world’s largest open scientific conference on HIV/AIDS in 2013. This is the the very first time the event was held in Asia. The event is held every two years previously in Sydney (2007), Cape Town (2009) and Rome (2011). IAS attracts approximately 5000 delegates from all over the world ranging from scientists to community leaders for the latest developments in HIV-related researches and updates on public health policies. The IAS 2013 in Kuala Lumpur has an extensive programme of 80 scientific sessions and 35 exhibition booths providing new insights into HIV disease development, biochemical prevention and clinical care.
“Tackling HIV largely depends on the willingness, commitment & energy of national leaders to implement scientifically sound policies. Many Asian countries experienced concentrated epidemics and there is an immense need to address key-affected populations which are still left behind in many countries. This conference will be an opportunity to highlight the many barriers that are impeding effective access for all to prevention and care,” as shared by Prof. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.
Adeeba added, “Cultural and religious sensitivities and taboos continue to hamper our ability to implement what science has proven. Yet at the same time our experience of the past ten years should be the basis by which we move forward to tackling the new challenges of reaching out to these groups.” Both co-chairpersons in their opening speeches emphasised that HIV/AIDS needs to be addressed in the most wholesome manner where advances in sciences may just be one of the many elements involved.
The Malaysian Minister of Health, Datuk Seri Dr. S. Subramaniam also shared his views, “There are challenges ahead in dealing with the challenging nature of HIV/AIDS in Malaysia but I am confident that we will respond for two reasons: The first is that we will always consider evidence-based approaches and value science. Secondly, we will always value the unique role of partnership between government and civil society in reaching out to key affected populations in the spirit of the Vision of the Ministry of Health – A Nation Working Together for Better Health. Statistically, by the end of 2012, Malaysia reported a cumulative figure of 98,279 HIV cases with approximately 82,000 people living with HIV. The government aims to reduce the annual rate of new HIV cases from 28.5 per 100,000 populations in 2002 to 11 per 100,000 population by 2015.”
The very first plenary session of the conference was by Prof. Steven Deeks of University of California outlining his latest work looking at HIV as an inflammatory disease, describing how inflammation affects health during antiretroviral treatment and how this process might affect cure studies. The presentation highlights the difference in response and incidence rate of treated and untreated HIV patients with patients without HIV to various comorbidities such as acute myocardial infarction, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and cancer. The findings from the study aim to provide better understanding in treating HIV patients with chronic diseases.
“People who have beautiful children born to sero-discordant couples, they are little bundle of joy and even more miraculously, this would have been unthinkable 30 years ago,” says Andrew Tan, the President of Malaysian Positive Network. “On behalf of the community of people living with HIV, I would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt gratitude for all the work scientists, researchers, doctors, medical assistants, lab technicians, nurses and counselors in helping us to maintain our health,” he added after surviving HIV for twenty years.
Research and development of the sciences behind HIV is beyond theories and laboratory benchwork. It is the passion and commitment of those who could see past the society stigmatism of the disease and is ready to put in the effort for a greater good. As the first host of IAS in Asia, Malaysia has committed to play this role and has clearly sent the message to participate in the global effort to fight against HIV.
Photo©International AIDS Society/Marcus Rose/Workers’ Photos