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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 42 - August 2004   
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A Manhattan Project for research

The report published at the beginning of July by UNAIDS on the Aids epidemic (1) is, like last year’s report, alarming: 5 million new cases of infection by the HIV virus and 3 million Aids deaths in 2003, with 38 million people carrying the Aids virus worldwide and a very rapid rise in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. 

Also worrying is the absence in the document of any reference to a research programme and strategy to match the scale of the problem. A few words about research on vaccines alongside UN recommendations essentially concerning prevention measures (education, information and awareness-raising campaigns) and that is about it. 

So should HIV victims expect nothing more from science? Are researchers giving up in the face of an epidemic which is so resilient in resisting their efforts? Is the debate condemned to remain focused solely on access to existing treatment, without being able to envisage research strategies aimed at effectively curing and eradicating this scourge? 

The document reflects a regrettable reality. With the exception of a few modest short-term initiatives, the United Nations does not possess any real research expertise. Therefore, no organisation is able to bring a coherent international strategy to this field or to include research as part of a global action plan and, most importantly, able to go beyond the rivalry between different agencies working in this field.

Is it not possible, at a global level, to introduce a dynamic of co-operation and scientific synergy able to achieve progress in the fight against this increasingly menacing disease? In any event, this is the example provided, on its own scale, by the mobilisation that is central to the European Research Area. What this document fails to mention is that, with limited funds but a very real added value, the work of many European teams is an essential driving force today within worldwide research in this sector.

Drawing inspiration from the successful experience – in the name of peace, but at what cost? – implemented during World War Two, humanity could well do with an ambitious and international Manhattan Project, this time a medical and humanitarian one devoted to Aids research. When considering the number of present-day problems that require a global approach using a coherent strategy drawing widely on research and technological development, it is quite possible to conceive or dream of such an approach for global research. But does the catastrophe of Aids allow us to keep dreaming? 

(1) 2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic

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