Havana meeting on preventing AIDS


By Jos‚ A. de la Osa

HAVANA — "The epidemic of the century", as the HIV virus has sometimes been referred to, continues to spread like wildfire throughout the world without anyone being able to state with certainty how it can be controlled.

Experts from 20 countries met in Havana for the 2nd International Seminar on Infection by HIV and AIDS in Cuba, to review preventative and curative strategies currently being tested or utilised against this lethal disease.

With the coordination and backing of the World Health Organisation (WHO), research is being carried out on three types of vaccines: preventative vaccines, to protect healthy people against the infection; therapeutic vaccines, in order to prevent the progression of AIDS in people infected with HIV; and perinatal vaccines, to keep the mother from transmitting the virus to the foetus or the newborn.

In the opinion of Professor Saladin Osmanov of the WHO's World AIDS Program, some 2000 volunteers have been administered one of the 15 vaccines that are being tested in a number of countries, including Cuba. He said that at the end of 1996 they would be initiating massive testing with one of the vaccines over a period of three years, at the end of which, as the 21st century arrives, they should have the first results.

Backing those opinions, Dr Armando Peruga, adviser for the Pan American Health Organisation's regional AIDS program, warned that the messages transmitted to the population should clearly map out these realities, so that every citizen knows that for many years still to come, prevention will continue to be the essential tactic.

The experts were in agreement in stating that the prudent approach is that prevention policies are aimed at the promotion of condom use and the reduction of multiple sexual partners, which, in the case of young people, may result in them delaying the onset of sexual activities.

Within the parameters of prevention, early treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly those that cause lesions, is also extremely important.

It is estimated that there are currently 18 million adults infected with HIV throughout the world, and it is believed that by the year 2000 there will be 10 million orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS.

There have been 1126 cases of HIV infection recorded in Cuba, of which 71.2% are male and 28.8% female. Of the 365 AIDS patients, 234 have died. In 98% of the cases in Cuba, the HIV virus was sexually transmitted, keeping in mind the fact that all blood for transfusions is tested.

It was announced that in order to improve the possibility of locating HIV carriers, the Ministry of Public Health plans to open a number of testing centres, in which people who do not wish to be identified for any reason will be able to take anonymous tests to find out whether they are carrying the virus.

A number of international agencies stated that even in countries following extensive and systematic testing procedures, some 15-18% of the people suspecting that they are infected with the virus do not consult their general health services for fear of revealing their identities.
[From Granma International.]