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HIV/AIDS scientists and activists are pushing for more funds to be allocated for HIV/AIDS research, rather than just for prevention and treatment of the disease.

More than 2000 people have so far signed the Sydney Declaration, calling for ten per cent of all AIDS funding, private or public, to be allocated to research. The declaration was signed at the fourth International AIDS Society (IAS) conference, underway this week
(22-25 July) in Sydney, Australia.

Investing in research would build the power of the developing world to monitor and respond to a wide range of public health issues, organisers said.

"We are not trying to take away money from treatment, or from prevention. We are trying to level the playing field," said Jacqueline Bataringaya, policy advocacy co-ordinator for the IAS. She said in her home country of Uganda there is much research they still need to do on the ground.

Conference organisers noted that research provides evidence to donors that expensive HIV/AIDS treatment plans have been successful. Investing in research also boosts a country's internal capacity to deal with HIV/AIDS and provides local scientists with jobs.

Debrework Zewdie, director of the Global HIV/AIDS Programme at the World Bank, said that in her home country of Ethiopia many health workers had left for better posts abroad.

"It's not a given that a developing country would be doing research," said Zewdie. "We need to sustain treatment programmes and the costs of the programmes, and that requires research."

For many nations in the same position, "the lack of capacity prevents access to drugs, even when the drugs are in the country," she said.

Research, although critical for resource-poor countries, was "negligible", said David Cooper, co-chairperson of the IAS conference. The United States' President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, US$15 billion global HIV/AIDS initiative, specifically excluded research from its funding strategy, he noted.

Cooper said many health departments were "highly stretched" by lack of capacity, the brain drain and HIV infections among health workers themselves. In many cases, they were even unable to complete the complicated paperwork in time to apply for finance from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

As a result of the lack of capacity, many hospitals and clinics were unable to accurately monitor the effectiveness of their treatment options, including male circumcision, condom use and the distribution of potent first-line anti-retroviral drugs.