The global financial crisis and a loss of interest in the AIDS epidemic may translate into less money in coming years for research, treatment and prevention of the virus, HIV experts said on Monday.

They are especially concerned because a trial in Thailand has just shown it may be possible to make a vaccine to prevent AIDS - the first hint of success in the 25 years since the pandemic began.

I'm very concerned that AIDS is slipping off the agenda in many countries of the world due to a combination of financial and economic crises, said Dr. Peter Piot of the Institute for Global Health at Imperial College London and a former head of the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS.

The money that was spent to save banks, insurance companies and so on is going to have an impact in the social sector and in R&D (research and development), Piot told a news conference at the start of a scientific AIDS conference.

An estimated 33 million people around the world are infected with HIV and more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them, the U.N. reported in September. Every day, 7,000 people become newly infected with


How much money will there be to enroll additional new patients? How much money will there be for new prevention activities? Piot said.

Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was worried about treatments, too.

The financial crisis is clearly affecting the capacity of donors to fund international programs on AIDS and let's not forget that it is also affecting the developing countries that are struggling to keep up with their investments in health, he said.

On Tuesday, scientists will release details of a study released in part last month that showed vaccine made using two older experimental vaccines, lowered the HIV infection rate by 31 percent after three years among 16,000 Thai volunteers.

The $105 million trial was sponsored and paid for by the U.S. government but it was mired in controversy from the start as it was made using two failed products.

We are not going to see all the results of the Thai trial tomorrow ... we hope this is going to lead to something more important, from 31 percent to a higher figure (of protection), said Alan Bernstein of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, a international coalition of researchers, funders, policy makers and advocates working on AIDS vaccines.