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Help for poorer nations focus of 12th AIDS conference

June 28, 1998
Web posted at: 1:49 p.m. EDT (1749 GMT)

GENEVA (CNN) -- More than 90 percent of the 30.6 million people in the world who have contracted HIV or full-blown AIDS live in developing nations where the most advanced treatments for the killer virus are largely unavailable.

Bill Gates boosts vaccine development

Finding ways to get AIDS therapies to the world's poorest patients, and nations where the infection and death rates are still advancing rapidly, is the focus of the 12th World AIDS Conference. The six-day event opens here at 1530 GMT (11:30 a.m. EDT) on Sunday and runs through Friday.

icon Factoids:

AIDS has claimed nearly 12 million lives since the early 1980s. Experts estimate some 40 million people will be infected with HIV by 2000.

Source: Reuters

Ten million people have contracted HIV since the 11th World AIDS Conference met in Vancouver in 1996.

Source: 1998 conference chairman Bernard Hirschel

Worldwide, 30.6 million people are known to have contracted HIV, or full-blown AIDS; 21 million of them live in Africa.

Source: The Associated Press

More than 12,000 doctors, research scientists, activists, HIV patients, drug company representatives and journalists have gathered in Geneva for the conference.

The group last met two years ago and learned of dramatic breakthroughs in AIDS treatments, including the promise of an imminent vaccine or, possibly, a cure.

Spread the wealth

No such fanfare is expected this year. Instead, the focus is on how to share the limited wealth of therapies that have surfaced in recent years.

"The developed world has access to information, expertise, medical technology, and financial resources that, if shared, can help avert the global catastrophe that will result from allowing HIV/AIDS to spread through much of our planet unchecked," said conference chair Bernard Hirschel in a statement released before Sunday's opening.

AIDS patients
Ninety percent of the more than 30 million infected with AIDS live in developing nations  

In nations where advanced treatments are available, the outlook for AIDS patients is vastly improving. In some parts of the United States, mortality rates fell by 75 percent between 1994 and 1997.

A few new drugs are expected to be discussed at the conference, as well as a few studies. On Saturday, French researchers announced a study that found expectant mothers could virtually prevent the transmission of HIV to their newborns by taking AZT during pregnancy and delivering their infant through an early Cesarean section.

Some of the main topics scheduled for discussion include new prevention strategies, new and emerging epidemics and biomedical advances. Global rights issues and public funding priorities that impact the fight against AIDS are also on the agenda.

Reuters contributed to this report.

AIDS drugs

Some AIDS advocates say poorer nations, and poorer patients in general, may never get access to the latest medications until the pile of pills that AIDS patients must take daily is reduced significantly.

There are AIDS patients who have to take up to 25 pills a day. Some major drug companies are working to reduce this number to one or two pills. These drug companies may talk about their efforts during the conference.

Data is expected to be presented in Geneva on three major new drugs, all of which can probably be taken once or twice a day:

Abacavir, a reverse transcriptase inhibitor from Glaxo Wellcome. (Aimed at keeping HIV from getting its genetic message inside a cell.)

Sustiva, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor developed by DuPont Merck. (Aimed at keeping HIV from replicating itself.)

ABT-378, a protease inhibitor developed by Abbott Laboratories. (Aimed at interfering with HIV's replication process.)

Source: Reuters

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