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Efforts to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS will only be effective if the gap between scientific discovery and health policy is narrowed, said researchers and policymakers this week at an international conference in Brazil.

Craig McClure, executive director of the International AIDS Society (IAS) told delegates at the 2005 IAS Conference that responses to the pandemic should be modified quickly in line with new research.

"Scientific findings presented at this conference highlight the urgency of applying what we learn," said McClure. "This is a rapidly evolving virus and epidemic and we need to stay ahead of it."

IAS president Helene Gayle added that "scientific knowledge alone will not end the pandemic, we need bold political leadership to translate science into policy, and policy into practice".

These sentiments were echoed by Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, who said: "Despite important progress in recent years, we have failed to ensure that the benefits of science … in particular, state-of-the-art treatments and effective prevention services, reach the most impoverished areas of the world."

Charlie Gilks, of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department called for a new alliance between the scientific community and those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as between companies that develop new drugs and those that make 'generic' versions of existing ones.

"We need to move new products and approaches into the field very quickly," said Gilks.

He noted that HIV/AIDS was a huge challenge, but that there was a growing body of science to help to combat it.

"There is no other field where the opportunities to translate evidence into action are so great," said Gilks.

"Not only can researchers directly impact on policy and practice, they have a real opportunity to reduce the inequity between those who usually benefit from science and those who do not."

Mauro Schechter, who heads the AIDS programme at Brazil's Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and is co-chairing the conference, said that increasing access to life-saving HIV drugs in developing countries had emerged as a global imperative.

"Equally important are the goals of ensuring access to proven prevention methods and disseminating important scientific research that is taking place all over the world, including here in Brazil," he added.