The world will not be able to celebrate advances in HIV diagnosis and treatment until the United Nations' goal of universal access to drugs is reached, leading international AIDS researchers said at a conference Sunday.
"We are dealing with a preventable disease and 11,000 people are contracting HIV/AIDS every day. We are dealing with a treatable disease and more than 3 million people are dying every year," said Pedro Cahn, the president of the International AIDS Society.
"Science has given us the tools to prevent and treat HIV effectively. The fact that we have not yet translated this science into practice ... is a shameful failure on the part of the global community."
More than 5,000 delegates from 133 countries have converged on Sydney, Australia, for the fourth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment, which runs through Wednesday.
Researchers from across the globe will present their findings on the benefits of circumcision for cutting HIV rates through to the latest developments in anti-retroviral drugs.
Lower prices for HIV drugs have significantly improved access to treatment for people in poor countries, but recent World Health Organization figures show the numbers are still far short of the U.N.'s goal of universal coverage by 2010.
Last year, some 2 million people in developing countries were receiving the anti-retroviral drugs that help treat the HIV infection, a 54 percent increase over 2005. But overall, only 28 percent of the world's HIV patients are receiving the life-prolonging drugs.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the world health community could not celebrate the great breakthroughs in the treatment HIV/AIDS since it was first diagnosed 26 years ago until greater steps are made to prevent the disease.
"Of the projected 60 million infections that will occur by 2015, fully half of them are projected to be able to be prevented with already known and proven prevention methods," Fauci told reporters in Sydney.
"Before we celebrate 26 years since the beginning of extraordinary accomplishments, we're actually going to be judged as a society in what we do in the next 20-26 years," he said. "We cannot sustain a successful effort with HIV without prevention."
Participants at the AIDS conference will be urged to sign a declaration aimed at raising more money for HIV research.
The so-called Sydney Declaration calls on national governments and bilateral, multilateral and private donors to allocate at least 10 percent of all HIV/AIDS-related funding to research.
"We believe that without such funding we will fail to maintain a sustained and effective response to the AIDS pandemic," the declaration says.
The conference organizers say this will help speed up the implementation of new drugs and technologies to prevent, diagnose and treat the infection.