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Major HIV/AIDS Conference Opens in Sydney

By Michael Smith

SYDNEY (Reuters) Jul 23 - The world's biggest scientific HIV/AIDS conference opened in Australia on Sunday with experts calling for more funding for research and new findings which suggest male circumcision can reduce infection by 60 percent.

About 5,000 delegates from more than 130 countries are attending the conference in Sydney this week to hear from the world's top experts in the fight against the global pandemic.

Delegates will be shown evidence from trials in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa that circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by about 60 percent.

The trials confirmed previous studies which have reported circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection. Muslim and Jewish men are circumcised in accordance with religious beliefs.

A briefing note said male circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa would prevent 5.7 million new cases of HIV infection and 3 million deaths over 20 years.

The conference also issued a declaration urging governments to allocate 10 percent of all resources for HIV into research.

"Science has given us the tools to prevent and treat HIV effectively. The fact that we have not yet translated this science into practice is a shameful failure," Pedro Cahn. the president of the International Aids Society told reporters on Sunday.

Global AIDS treatment is expected to fall far short of a universal target to have five million people being treated by 2010, due to a continued lack of access to drugs by many of the world's impoverished people.

The United Nations says close to 40 million people are infected with the AIDS virus and that treatment had dramatically expanded from 240,000 people in 2001 to 1.3 million by 2005.

In June, world powers at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany set a target of providing AIDS drugs over the next few years to approximately 5 million people. Anthony Fauci, who advises the White House on the virus, said the message at the conference would be mixed as a lot had been accomplished but there was still a lot to do.

"We still now are only treating 28 percent of the people who actually need therapy. We cannot sustain a successful effort without prevention," Fauci, who estimated 60 million people would be infected by 2015, told reporters.