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Speaking at the XIX International AIDS Conference opening session last Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the audience that the end of AIDS is coming: “I am here today to make it absolutely clear, the United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation.”

While there is no vaccination or cure for AIDS yet, with the progress made in the development of medicines, today the struggle to end AIDS does appear to be more of a political one. Since British Columbia (BC) introduced HAART in 1996, definitive data proves that when treated properly with the three-drug anti-retroviral, the disease is rendered almost non-infectious, the likelihood of transmission less than five percent. The cocktail shuts down replication of the virus from the day the patient starts treatment, the immune system can establish itself, the HIV infection will not progress to AIDS, life is normalized and having children not infected by the virus is possible.

Since the introduction of HAART in BC, AIDS is down by 90 percent, HIV-related mortality is down by over 95 percent, transmission is down by over 65 percent, and mother-to-child transmission is basically abolished. The province is already 2/3 of the way to being AIDS free. Yet during the same period, HIV infections in a nearby Canadian province has dramatically increased. The picture in developing countries is also bleak.

At the conference, American President Barack Obama promised scientists that he would recruit the support of the G8 and G20 countries to ensure that the necessary resources are available, and French President François Hollande endorsed a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions, which could potentially generate enough revenue to support the fight against HIV, TB and malaria. But money is not the only obstacle.

AIDS advocates claim that stigmatization is driving the disease underground. Where there is discrimination and criminalization, where isolation, substance abuse, poverty or mental illness might also exist, people are less likely to access the healthcare they need. To end the epidemic requires that healthcare is provided, that the drugs and testing are available, and that the legal, social and cultural framework of society is welcoming. Perhaps just knowing that the end of AIDS is coming could help overcome the stigma.

Clinton is counting on it: “We will not back off. We will not back down. We will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone.”

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