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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientists Seek Center to Develop HIV Drug

Scientists on Wednesday urged the government to set up an international center for developing a vaccine against HIV, as an international conference ended in Moscow with a call for governments to ensure all those already infected in Eastern Europe and Central Asia be given access to continuous treatment by 2010.

Andrei Kozlov, head of the St. Petersburg Biomedical Center, told a round-table discussion that the government needed to make vaccine production a priority on the scale of building a nuclear weapon or sending people into space.

He also called on Russian businesses to play a greater role in funding such research, which he said could result in late-stage testing of prospective vaccines in four to seven years.

"We must do this. Either we win or we will die. ... We have no other alternative. We are obligated to do this," Kozlov said.

Yevgeny Nadorshin, an economic expert, said that by the time there was late-stage testing of prospective vaccines, the drag on the economy by people falling ill and dying from AIDS would be substantial.

Also Wednesday, State Duma Deputy Speaker Artur Chilingarov said the Duma was considering exempting companies working on an AIDS vaccine from taxes.

The country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, acnowledged at the closing of the first international AIDS conference in Moscow that Russia faces a big problem.

"The stigma and discrimination that exist in our society are a very serious obstacle for the many tasks we have before us," he said.

"We are obviously behind in prevention work, and we will do everything to treat those who have been already infected and make sure they have uninterrupted access to treatment."

Some 1,600 delegates from 49 countries wrapped up the three-day conference by passing a resolution calling on the Group of Eight and the United Nations General Assembly to help draft a program for treating all HIV patients in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by 2010.

The delegates, who included NGO staff, government officials, scientists, and health professionals, spent three days discussing different approaches to curbing the epidemic's growth in those regions.

The delegates praised Russian authorities for raising their financial commitment to combating AIDS to $100 million this year, a more than 20-fold increase from $4.6 million in 2005.

At the same time, the UN's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe, Lars Kallings, and other experts criticized Russia and other countries in the region for failing to provide better health and social services for drug users and sex workers, groups at high risk of infection.

Russia has more than 300,000 registered HIV infections, and experts estimate the true number of infections exceeds 1 million. Federal AIDS Center's statistics show a growing number of infections from heterosexual intercourse in recent years, compared with infections between drug users sharing needles, signaling that the epidemic, which the UN calls "Europe's largest," may soon spill over into the general population.

(MT, AP)