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The International Aids Conference in Washington DC has once more placed the pandemic at the forefront of world news – but there is a different tone to some of the reports emerging from it.
Nearly 30 years after the human immuno-deficiency virus was identified in 1983, leaders in Aids vaccine research say they may finally be on the cusp of a period of major discovery leading to a vaccine.
Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said the last few years had been “a turning point”. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve probably ever been in my career.”
More positive news came from South Africa’s 2012 National HIV Communication Survey results, released at the conference on Tuesday.
They showed that the percentage of people who have been tested at least once in their lives has increased to 64 percent. Another positive was that 66 percent of respondents used a condom for their first sexual encounters. This pleased the researchers because, they believe, condom use would more likely be continued in such cases.
The survey attributed this behaviour change to communication programmes and the distribution of 450 million condoms by the government.
Circumcision jumped too, with 350 000 men circumcised last year, of which 64 percent were medical procedures (as opposed to the traditional type). This meant a national increase from 33 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2012, attributable in part at least to calls by King Goodwill Zwelithini.
A decrease in stigma was another important victory, with more people talking openly about HIV and discussing testing with their partners.
The fight against this disease has a long, long way to go, in spite of the upbeat results. Research shows, though, that the anti-HIV medical and behavioural interventions that are are in place are worth expanding.