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AIDS Foundation Announced

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

AIDS pioneer Luc Montagnier held a press conference at Harvard University Friday as part of the Industrial Summit.

Montagnier, a professor at the Pasteur Institute, discovered the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV-1) in 1983 and isolated the second AIDS virus HIV-2 in 1985.

At the press conference, Montagnier announced the creation of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention. The foundation is taking action at an international level by "giving priority to research and developing education, prevention, and social support measures," according to a brochure.

The foundation was set up to help economies and societies of countries devastated by AIDS, such as Uganda, Montagnier said.

He also pointed out the importance of including a discussion of AIDS at the summit. It seems that the developed countries do not recognize the extent of the AIDS pandemic in developing countries.

Even though 85 percent of AIDS cases are in developing countries, only 6 percent of AIDS donations from the private sector has gone to projects for these people, according to a member of the audience who was also a spokesman for the foundation.

In the Western world, people have a skewed perspective of the severity of the epidemic, the spokesman said. This foundation will rally international support for AIDS patients in developing countries, he added.

Moreover, if a cure were found, it would be very expensive and thereby raise economic and social problems for developing countries, Montagnier said.

Purpose of the foundation

The goal of the foundation is to mobilize private initiative worldwide to complement measures taken by public authorities, give priority to innovative research, and provide support for victims and preventive education, according to the brochure. The first social project is to give scholarships to African orphans whose parents died of AIDS. Once the foundation has enough funds, it will open three applied research centers in Africa, France, and the United States.

AIDS has hit the coastal and eastern part of Africa very hard, Montagnier said. Demographically, AIDS mostly affects young adults in Africa. Many of these young adults are parents, and their deaths from AIDS results in many orphans. The foundation wants to give scholarships to these orphans. These scholarships would cover education costs, medical care, and social care -- to make sure these children are not excluded from society, he said.

In Uganda, which has a population of 17 million people, there are 1.5 million orphans whose parents died from AIDS, Montagnier said.

One out of eight people in Uganda are HIV positive, with 30 percent HIV positive in Uganda's capital, according to the audience spokesperson.

No cure in near future

Montagnier was asked how close researchers are to finding a cure.

It is hard to tell where the research community stand, he said. It is good to give the public hope through results; however, we should not be too optimistic. We are "still a way from a complete explanation of AIDS," he said.

"We're making some improvements, though this is not for direct patient application," Montagnier said.

Although a cure is not likely in the near future, Montagnier is optimistic about the ability to keep people with AIDS alive. "We've already extended the lives of some people," he said. Still, it is difficult to measure how much longer these AIDS patients are kept alive.

Financing the foundation

The World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention is financed mostly by donations. Montagnier said he met with the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti a few days prior to the summit, and support from personalities like him would make quite an impact on public opinion.

In addition, the foundation is receiving support from the United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization, and other international groups, along with support from governments.

The foundation was established by Federico Mayor, director-general of the UNESCO and Montagnier, who is the foundation's president.