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Vaccine research and development should be the top funding priority for HIV/AIDS, if global organisations are able to raise US$10 billion over the next five years, according to a panel that included Nobel laureate economists.

They came to their decision based on the fact that even a US$100 million per year boost to vaccine research funding — relatively modest, the panel said, and about ten per cent above current levels — could speed up vaccine development, a meeting heard in Washington DC, United States, last week (28 September).

"Even though the vaccine is elusive and we do not have it yet, it's clear that this research has led to an understanding that has enormously improved our ability to fight this disease," said Nobel economist Vernon Smith, of Chapman University, California, United States.

The panel was convened by the RethinkHIV project — funded by the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) — which aims to help policymakers and donors find the most cost-effective ways to tackle the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It commissioned researchers looking at the economics, epidemiology and demography of AIDS to identify a series of cost-effective interventions and then asked the panel of economists, which included three Nobel laureates, to review the researchers' findings and rank them in order of priority.

At last week's meeting, the panel presented its findings to advocacy groups including the Global HIV/AIDS Program of the World Bank, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the US Department of State and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and an international economic advisor, who was not involved with the project, is skeptical of the validity of the Copenhagen Consensus process.

"This … process of evaluation has been misguided and inaccurate from the start on just about every issue. This kind of question, US$2 billion a year over 5 years, posed in an artificial way to a group of people who may be Nobel laureates but who have no expertise on these issues, has just come up with one misleading issue after the other," said Sachs.

But Bjorn Lomborg, director of the CCC, said some of the world's top economists had showed that there were a lot of "amazing opportunities" to help people have better lives. "HIV/AIDS is not a done crisis," he said.

Link to full article in Nature News Blog