Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace

VII: Future Challenges in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Therapy

On April 7, 2010, Nobel Laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi delivered a keynote address as a part of the “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” series presented by The University of Cambodia and the Asia Leadership Center. This was the seventh of the current series of Bridges Dialogues hosted by the UC Asia Leadership Center. This series was launched on November 5, 2009, at UC with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An as the guest-of-honor, with a total of nine distinguished visitors to Cambodia (the Nobel Laureates Aaron Ciechanover, David Gross, Eric Maskin, Torsten Wiesel, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Jose Ramos-Horta; the classical pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy; the actor Jackie Chan, known in Cambodia as Chen Long; and the film director Oliver Stone) over a period of six months. Their visits were sponsored by Dr. Haruhisa Handa (Chairman and Founder of Worldwide Support for Development and the International Foundation for Arts and Culture) and facilitated by the International Peace Foundation.

Prior to her speech, Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was conferred an honorary doctorate degree in Science from Dr. Angus Munro (Vice President for Academic Affairs) for her lifetime achievement in the field of medicine. Professor Barré-Sinoussi opened with a brief history of the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and declared that the sudden emergence of AIDS in the early 1980’s crushed scientific hopes of eradicating infectious diseases. And even 25 years after its discovery, scientists have still not found a preventive vaccine.

A community of clinicians, researchers, and patients collaborated in the discovery and, to this day, this worldwide collaboration has helped to expand knowledge, diagnostic tests, and antiretroviral drugs in response to the global health pandemic. For Professor Barré-Sinoussi, international cooperation and knowledge sharing on this issue is crucial to disseminating information on preventative measures, ending social stigmas related to HIV and AIDS, and finding an effective vaccine (even though there is still a very long way ahead) .

The HIV virus poses serious challenges for the scientific community because it can mutate and become resistant to drugs. According to Professor Barré-Sinoussi, in order to produce an effective vaccine, scientists need to understand how HIV alters the host immune defense system faster than its ability
to produce an effective response to control the infection. Moreover, scientists need to be able to identify the viral determinants responsible for early pathogenic signals and means to counteract these signals. They cannot do this in isolation though.

“Innovative and creative HIV vaccine strategies within the context of a clearly Bridges fined international agenda that promote collaboration and knowledge sharing are essential,” Professor Barré-Sinoussi asserted. The latest HIV vaccine trial, the “RV144 Thai,” shows much promise with a modest 30 percent efficacy in protecting humans from infection and raises hope that a vaccine can be developed in the near future. In the absence of an effective vaccine, Professor Barré-Sinoussi suggested several preventative treatment measures: promoting condom use to limit sexual transmission, improving diagnosis and introducing antiretroviral treatment to pregnant women with HIV to limit mother-to-child transmission, and promoting male circumcision to diminish the risk of infection.

Professor Barré-Sinoussi noted how the fight against HIV/AIDS has united people from all around the world: Unified by the same impulse of solidarity, more political commitment has been gathered in the fight against HIV/AIDS to include equal access to treatment, care and prevention, social and legal justice for all, and the ending of stigma and gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

People from civil society and the public and private sectors have joined together and mobilized to fight HIV/AIDS, but this will not succeed without substantial improvement of human rights throughout the world.

Professor Barré-Sinoussi urged international leaders and policy makers to “remain committed to providing universal access to prevention, treatment, and care,” especially in light of the global economic crisis and its threat to the funding of HIV/AIDS programs in developing nations. During the Q&A session, she encouraged countries to work together to find innovative strategies to fund AIDS research, sharing that France taxes plane tickets to fund research and foundations supporting prevention efforts.

“Health is undoubtedly an important factor of peace, stability and development for every country,” Professor Barré-Sinoussi declared.

“In a globalized world, health must be considered as a non-negotiable right for every human being and equity in access to it, as an international responsibility.”
In response to a question from the audience on what can be done in Cambodia to prevent the ongoing problem of mother-to-child transmission, Professor Barré-Sinoussi noted that Cambodia has been successful in treating adults, including women, but pointed to a need for organizations in Cambodia to be better organized in providing treatment to infected mothers, citing Europe and the U.S. as no longer having this problem because treatment is provided to mothers there.

Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008 for her discovery of the severe human disease, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Her work made it possible for rapid cloning of the HIV-1 genome, which allowed scientists to understand its replication cycle and led to the development methods to diagnose patients and screen blood. The result was decreased spread of the disease and increased life expectancy among treated patients.