Social factors, including economic pressures caused by climate change, could lead to an increase in HIV infection rates world-wide, a leading researcher from UNSW has warned.

Daniel Tarantola, Professor of Health and Human Rights at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, told the audience at a public lecture that disadvantage in developing countries must be addressed if the world is to prevent a dramatic escalation of the HIV epidemic as well as other health problems.

Professor Tarantola joined a panel of top HIV researchers to address the topic "A Future Free of HIV" at UNSW. The event was moderated by Justice of the High Court, Michael Kirby.

"It was clear soon after the emergence of the HIV epidemic that discrimination, gender inequality and lack of access to essential services have made some populations more vulnerable than others. These problems have not gone away," Professor Tarantola said.

"Today, additional threats are lurking on the horizon as the global economic situation deteriorates, food scarcity worsens and climate change begins to affect those who were already dependent on survival economies.

"Climate change will trigger a chain of events which is likely to increase the stress on society and result in higher vulnerability to diseases including HIV," he said.

Professor David Cooper, Director of UNSW's National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR) said: "Science has achieved great strides towards shaping a more effective response to HIV. Yet research has not succeeded in producing the hoped-for 'magic bullets' of either a cure or a vaccine.

"We need to escalate our research efforts while sustaining and expanding what we know works: good prevention and access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy and integrated care."

Topics covered at the forum included: