AHF Officials Ask for Suspension of HIV/AIDS Funding

Joanne Cachapero
WASHINGTON — Officials from the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization in America have asked for a suspension of research funding, citing a failure to develop an effective vaccine, in favor of shoring up underfunded HIV/AIDS prevention and assistance programs.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Chief of Medicine Dr. Homayoon Khanlou and AHF President Michael Weinstein wrote an opinion piece titled, “Enough is Enough” that ran in the Baltimore Sun last week.

The article was published just prior to the HIV Vaccine Summit assembled by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci on March 25 in Bethesda, Md.

“To control AIDS, funding must be invested in strategies that work — effective prevention efforts, routine testing and universal access to treatment — and not spent on expensive vaccine research that in over 20 years has yielded little of promise other than discovering how not to make an AIDS vaccine,” Khanlou and Weinstein wrote in the article.

The pair went on to cite recent high-profile failures in vaccine development, including a recent trial conducted by pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck, in which subjects were shown to have a greater risk of infection after being treated with vaccine.

Despite unsuccessful attempts, funding for vaccine research has more than doubled between 2000 and 2006 from $327 million to $854 million.

However, according to Khanlou and Weinstein, funding of testing, educational and prevention programs here in the U.S. and internationally are suffering from a lack of resources, when early detection and condom use have proved effective in slowing the rates of infection.

“Suspending U.S. funding for an HIV vaccine and investing in strategies that save lives and stop new infections is the wisest and most effective use of limited public resources,” the officials said. “And with thousands of lives lost daily because people around the world lack access to proven, effective and relatively inexpensive prevention and treatment options, it is also the only moral choice.”

The article said also that there are an estimated 250,000 infected individuals in the U.S. that are unaware of their status, and another 20 million worldwide. Most new infections are a result of contact with a sexual partner who is not aware of his or her infection status, so funding for widespread testing on a global scale would have the potential to curb HIV/AIDS infection rates.

Also, HIV-positive individuals that are receiving treatment for their condition are far less likely to transmit the infection, according to Khanlou and Weinstein.

The pair urged participants in the HIV Vaccine Summit to take the information into consideration while rethinking their approach to further development of vaccines.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization in the U.S. AHF provides treatment, care and support services to more than 65,000 individuals in 20 countries worldwide, including the U.S., Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.

For more information, visit the organization’s website.