AIDS 2014 conference underway in Melbourne | Pacific Beat

AIDS 2014 conference underway in Melbourne

AIDS 2014 conference underway in Melbourne

Updated 22 July 2014, 9:44 AEST

With the AIDS 2014 conference officially underway in Melbourne delegates and officials have been hearing about both the science and social impacts of the disease.

The situation in Papua New Guinea was also a major focus of discussion.

And Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney reports many delegates are wondering how much longer it will be before a cure is developed.

Reporter: Campbell Cooney, Pacific Correspondent

COONEY: If there's one question researchers are sure to be asked at the major conference dealing with HIV/AIDS is how far off is a cure or even a vaccine.

It's no different at AIDS 2014 and unfortunately, the answer is virtually unchanged. There's plenty of work being done, there's some promising results, but nothing is definite and over the next few days, even more of those results will be released here, although the researchers and their advisers are paranoid about details being released early and spoiling their carefully planned events.

In the past few months, a lot of promise was placed on a child from the United States known globally as the Mississippi Baby, born with HIV, for over two years she was untreated and showed no signs of the virus. But earlier this year, tests showed the virus was taking hold once more.

Dr Deborah Persuad is one of the team involved in the research.

PERSAUD: In the past three weeks, we've identified the Mississippi child now has rebound viremia so what we've learned from this, I think first and foremost, is this child was indeed HIV-infected, that the affects we saw were really the effect of treatment, not prophylaxis. The second is we've learned that HIV can establish latency very early. This child was treated at 30 hours of age.

COONEY: But for researchers, the Mississippi baby still holds promise.

Dr Stephen Danks, is from the Centre of AIDS Research at the University of California.

DANKS: As a scientist, the failures are actually often far more instructive than successes and with regards to this particular case, it again it confirms what we all assumed, but didn't really know, that it just takes one cell that can live for years to start the whole process over, so we really now know what we need to go after and I'm hopeful that the child herself will get the best care possible and will do well.

COONEY: AIDS 2014 has also provided a platform for highlighting new ways of policing to help keep HIV/AIDS at bay.

Around the world, instead of enforcing the law by the book, many police forces are now trying to work with those most vulnerable to the infection, mainly sex workers and drug addicts handing out condoms and syringes, instead of arrest warrants and training officers to use common sense.

Jim Pugel is the former chief of the police in the US City of Seattle.

PUGEL: The traditional police approach is certainly in the United States, in the city of Seattle and unfortunately around the world, which has copied much of American law enforcement has hurt public health initiatives by negative enforcement, yes, we police have to hold everyone accountable to the laws, but we have to examine the way that we enforce those laws.

COONEY: But in many countries, policing like this is also breaking the law.

In Papua New Guinea, homosexuality is illegal and many other countries in the region and elsewhere have outlawed sodomy.

Wilson Lomali from the Kenyan Provincial Police says the solutions simple.

LOMALI: You know that laws are for man and not man for the law, so in trying to enforce the law and you see that it's not working, you have to find innovative ways to go about the law. At the end of it all, who are you protecting? You are protecting the human being, but if the law is working against the welfare or the public of that individual, that means you're not achieving anything.

COONEY: Campbell Cooney, from Pacific Beat, on Radio Australia. When you're trying to provide this training to your officers, do you have issues with them coming up against their own social religious beliefs, when it comes to dealing with people with HIV and how do you overcome that?

LOMALI: You know in most of my trainings, what I do is that we tell our policemen that divorce your moral beliefs from pure policing functions. If you are coming with the background of morality, then you cannot be a good policeman. Try to set off your moral issues and then on Sunday or Friday, if you're going to the mosque, you put them on.

COONEY: In the Pacific, PNG's the island nation where HIV/AIDS infections at the highest level, but in an address to conference, Health Minister, Michael Malabag was talking positively about the rate of infection.

MALABAG: Our national HIV prevalence peaked at about 1.6 percent in the mid 2000's, sorry during the 20-thousands. Now, it has continued to declined, an estimated 31-thousand-945 adults and children were living with HIV in the country.

At the end of 2013, which means representing a national prevalence of zero-point-65 percentage.

COONEY: Much of the improvement in PNG is credited to the role that business is playing in providing health care and taking into account the needs of its workforce. Oil Search is one of PNG's biggest resource companies and is involved in the partnership with the PNG government, providing care to its workers and the communities they live in.

Peter Botten is the company's Managing Director.

BOTTEN: Starting with our own people's help, remembering many people come from the local communities, we developed over 10 years ago a number of programs that addressed the prevalence of an area, addressed common but treatable diseases, chest infections, child and maternal health issues, sexual disease, violence against women and more recently, HIV/AIDS. This work in turn led to the formation of our health foundation, allowing to potentially deliver health programs across a broader area of the country and to leverage partnerships with the formal and informal sectors. Over 150 Community Health staff have been trained to test and treat HIV and over 50 school teachers have been supported to deliver programs that educate students about HIV.

COONEY: But Mr Botten's says more is needed and he's challenged other businesses in Papua New Guinea, to put their money where they're mouth is.

BOTTEN: In PNG, it is time as never before for the private and public sectors to work together to address these issues. In 2014, in PNG, we need to pick up the pace. Without that, and without greater involvement of the private sector, to help governments deliver on community expectations, we all risk serious social dislocation. From that, people will die.

Please don't expect as applied for in the private sector that just paying taxes will continue to deliver you a stable operating environment in PNG.

Join the cause, step up the pace private sector and make a real difference.

COONEY: At the AIDS 2014 Conference, this is Campbell Cooney for Pacific Beat.

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