HIV/AIDS: Is the Tide Turning? Part 1

July 25, 2012

We’re now entering the fourth decade of HIV/AIDS awareness. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the earliest report (on June 5, 1981) of what is now known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

We’re now entering the fourth decade of HIV/AIDS awareness. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the earliest report (on June 5, 1981) of what is now known as AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). In 1983 in France and 1984 in the United States, Luc Montagnier, MD, and Robert Gallo, MD, respectively, and their research teams discovered that HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) causes AIDS.

Anne Landry

In 1993, due in part to the CDC’s broadened definition of AIDS in January of that year, reports of heterosexual transmission increased. There were also more reports of HIV transmission through intravenous drug use (needle sharing).

After 1995, with the availability of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy, with protease inhibitors to block HIV replication), an HIV infection was no longer a death sentence-provided a person could access treatment (which now costs $15,000 to $40,000 per year) early and follow a rigorous multidrug regimen. Today, more than 30 FDA-approved HIV medications are available.

In late 2010, about 34 million people worldwide were alive with HIV, up 17% from 2001-reflecting the benefit of antiretroviral therapy, not just new infections. In the United States, 1.1 million are living with HIV, and there are 50,000 new HIV diagnoses annually.

HIV/AIDs still poses significant challenges in the United States, especially in the South, and elsewhere in the developed world. Until recently it was a pandemic in many less-developed countries with limited treatment access, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for only 12% of the world population but in 2010 had 70% of the new AIDS infections worldwide-but global health efforts are being concentrated there.

Similar to certain cancers, HIV infection is now considered a chronic, treatable disease. Like the war on cancer, the UNAIDS sea-change goal of “zero AIDS cases” will take money, time, and commitment. The theme of AIDS 2012, the 19th International AIDS Conference happening in Washington, DC, this week, is Turning the Tide Together. Research advances and healthcare policy changes are already creating ripples of important change that may set us on the right course toward eradication of HIV/AIDS.

A variety of excellent resources are available for patients, families, healthcare providers, and others who want to learn more about HIV/AIDS and efforts to manage it and prevent transmission of HIV. A sample of some goods ones includes the federal website AIDS.gov (which has a very interesting blog section), the Treatment Access Expansion Project, PEPFAR (The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a global program), and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

I’ll be sharing some promising clinical developments and HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Part 2 of my HIV/AIDS blog series, “News and Views Highlights in HIV/AIDS.”