Lives were lost as experts argued the merits of care versus prevention, says Stefano Vella

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

Time has been wasted – and lives have been lost – in the last two years because experts argued over whether prevention or treatment was the more pressing global need, Stefano Vella the president of the International AIDS Society, the conference organisers, said at the opening ceremony in Barcelona.

Vella told delegates that he thought the International AIDS Conference in Durban two years ago had been a success, but he added: “We then lost quite some time, and quite some lives, debating if it is better to bring more prevention or more care and treatment. I think that is now over because, as Peter Piot [executive director of UNAIDS] said recently, we finally understood that the quality of future lives depends on the quality of present lives.

“If we talk about preventing mother to child transmission, we cannot forget that we need the mothers and the fathers.”

Vella also criticised governments, although he welcomed the many government representatives present at the Barcelona conference.

He told them: “The International AIDS Conferences have never been the conferences of governments, particularly of the governments of the north, because in 20 years of AIDS history, with some exceptions indeed, governments have not been the driving force of this battle and have rather followed the wave according to their political agendas.”

His warmest welcome was reserved for scientists “not only because they invented the tools to fight HIV”, he said, “but also because I never saw in other fields of medicine this growing ‘scientific activism’ and the inclusion of the universal access to health care in the scientific agenda of the most relevant AIDS research institutions of the world.

“Indeed, scientists progressively understood that they should take the lead with the idea that the advancements of medicine cannot be reserved to small numbers of human beings.”

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