AIDS Experts See a Long Battle Medical Cure Seems Remote; Massive Funding to Solve the Problem Has Expanded Knowledge

Article excerpt

AS they size up the course of an epidemic that has broken through the walls erected to contain it, AIDS researchers exhibit a mix of concern and expectation.

A decade after the AIDS virus was discovered, few cling to the hope of quick fixes. The prospect of a medical cure seems remote. As researchers probe for a solution, statistics pile up: By the year 2000 the number of AIDS victims worldwide could quadruple to 40 million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Arrayed against this projection is the unprecedented size of the campaign to contain the AIDS epidemic. Though funding is still a major problem, more money and attention have been devoted to AIDS in the past 10 years than most comparable health threats get in a generation.

"We're now into the second decade of an epidemic that is continuing to expand and to cause major human suffering and loss of life," says Helena Gayle, chief of the AIDS division of the United States Agency for International Development. "So it's hard to feel the battle is won."

"On the other hand," Dr. Gayle adds, "we have more knowledge of the virus and there have been advances in learning how to change the behavior that leads to the transmission of AIDS, at least in the short run. We go into the second decade armed with important information and with people who are extremely committed to halting the epidemic." Major AIDS conference

Thousands of doctors and AIDS activists met in Amsterdam last week to weigh the medical, social, and economic aspects of the AIDS crisis. Five thousand scientific papers addressed the unknowns of the AIDS virus. The conference also highlighted two underreported aspects of the AIDS crisis.

The first is that AIDS is becoming more prevalent among women, more of whom are expected to be infected by the year 2000 than men. The second is that AIDS is directly linked to economic underdevelopment and to the low status of women in most developing countries - yet another reason why curbing the AIDS epidemic is likely to be a long-term enterprise.

The meeting was the eighth in a series of annual international AIDS conferences sponsored primarily by WHO. The conference will convene next year in Berlin.

AIDS researchers say some of the biggest successes in the past decade have resulted from aggressive awareness campaigns. Using money donated by developed countries, third world governments are publicizing the risks of aids and marketing condoms as the first line of defense. …