Saturday, July 21, 2007

coffee and condoms

It's a crisis! There's no coffee in the newsroom at the Sydney Convention Centre at the opening of the International AIDS Society!
And a highly-placed source - OK, Bob Meyers of the National Press Foundation, who just wandered past - says coffee costs a mere three Australian dollars outside these doors. Scary stuff. Or it would be, if innumerate journalists could calculate currency exchanges.
On Sunday, there are so many satellite sessions - even one called speaker orientation, which sounds like gender issues but in fact is for novice speakers on how to improve their presentations - that it feels more like an astronomy conference than one of the big science-of-AIDS conferences.
The big drug company Pfizer is hosting one satellite session on preventing viral entry, which is an interesting issue. It's clear that a lot of the research into vaccines (and microbicides too, for that matter) is focusing on multi-tasking - something that can achieve a variety of aims.
For example, do you put all your efforts into preventing the virus from sneaking through the lining of the vagina or the rectum? And then what? What if one does manage to sneak through - do you make the environment just within the body totally hostile to the virus? And then what? What if the virus sneaks into a cell and starts replicating? So something needs to be useful there, too.
Sounds to us like the fight against AIDS requires the army, the navy and the airforce, because the enemy has to be fought on several different levels. And it sounds as well like it would be far easier just not to get it.
But all the time that researchers (or proponents of abstinence campaigns) talk about behavioural modification, some of us are reminded of South Africa's astonishingly high rape statistics. Most young women are not exactly volunteering for their first sexual experience, and the situation does not improve as they get older.
So a vaccine, a diaphragm that can be inserted and ignored, a slow-release microbicide that doesn't have to be used just before sex and the female condom all sound like a good thing.
Of course, there aren't very many teenage girls at this conference.
And our guess is that if they had the cash, they'd rather top up their cellphone/mobile phone airtime. Now there's an idea - a year's worth of condoms or microbicides with each new cellphone.

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