Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared the latest scientific information with the conference delegates about the actual steps that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) takes when it makes contact with the human genital tract (through exposure to semen or vaginal secretions) which result in infection.Understanding, in detail, the early steps taken by the virus to establish infection is very important because it provides scientists with targets for the development of new drugs and potential vaccine candidates. Recent work has identified a special subset of CD4+ cells that are especially susceptible to HIV infection. With this discovery, scientists can now begin to develop strategies to block the virus, with the hope that such treatments could, in the future, successfully prevent HIV infections.
Dr. Everjoice Win, the Head of Women’s Rights at ActionAid International in Zimbabwe, spoke on the critical issue of gender-based violence against women and girls. She emphasized why it is essential to understand how violence and the fear of violence can impact all aspects of HIV/AIDS prevention, diagnosis, and treatment programs for women and girls. Dr. Win urged policy makers and leaders around the world to recognize “women’s rights” as human rights and urged better surveillance of gender-based violence and improved interventions for preventing it.
Tuesday afternoon, Drs. Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim, two well-known AIDS researchers from South Africa, released the results of their long- awaited study on a vaginal gel containing the antiretroviral drug, tenofovir. For the first time ever, a vaginal gel has been shown to significantly reduce the transmission of HIV. This landmark study, which enrolled nearly 900 South African women, was shown to reduce HIV transmission by 39%--compared to a placebo gel that did not contain the antiretroviral drug.This announcement was widely acclaimed by conference delegates as a significant step forward in HIV prevention for women around the world.