After many years no cure for Aids

Richard Ingham

Richard Ingham

PARIS - The campaign against Aids marks an important anniversary this week, bringing to mind victories of science and the human spirit but also defeats, stigma and ignorance in a combat that has claimed more lives than World War Two.

On May 20 1983, in a paper in the US journal Science, a team from France's Pasteur Institute, led by Luc Montagnier, described a suspect virus found in a patient who had died of Aids.

Montagnier's groundbreaking work led to the determination by US researcher Robert Gallo that the virus was indeed the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids).

At last a key had been found to understanding the mysterious disease - the "gay plague" as British tabloids smugly called it - which had surfaced among American homosexuals two years earlier.

It took another three years to resolve a spat over the pair's rival claims to be first to discover the Aids virus, enabling the duo to share equally in the glory.

Stoked by the success of antibiotics and polio vaccine, optimism was brimming that this threat would now be stopped in its tracks.

"Today's discovery represents the triumph of science over a dreaded disease," the then US health secretary Margaret Heckler declared, when Gallo staked his claim on the virus discovery in April 1984.

Few promises have beenso tragically premature. The tally of known cases of Aids then was less than 3000. Today it stands at 25 million dead and 33 million infected. - Sapa-AFP