Optimism Surrounding World AIDS Day
So World AIDS day has come and gone for another year. It did a great job of reminding everyone about this terrible disease. We still have 34 million people around the World living, as they say, with the HIV infection. It is still spreading at alarming rates, 1.7 million new cases recorded last year. But here is a silver lining on this massive dark cloud and it is called â€˜antiretroviralâ€™.
These drugs are proving very effective in study after study, for prolonging the life of patients with the disease. When people are diagnosed early enough, antiretrovirals also reduce the levels of virus in the body of each patient and thereby the chances of it being passed on to others.
Because of these factors the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has put out for consideration some advice for doctors all over America. The advice is to think about making HIV testing a routine part of consultations for all patient groups and not just gay and high risk groups. This recommendation supports CDC guidelines and those of other clinical groups. Medics in Canada are considering doing likewise.
The NIH, or National Institutes of Health, is currently running a community centered study that is both testing routinely and getting immediate treatment for all patients that show up positive for HIV. The quick drug therapy should suppress the disease in the population and greatly cut infection rates. Concurrently the NIH is still very much in the hunt for a vaccine.
Although this is proving to be a frustrating and lengthy quest. They are trailing a slow release microbicide that kills HIV. It is in an internal ring around the cervix that has to be renewed monthly. Medical researchers are still searching for that elusive cure and the very idea is not as fantastical as it once appeared.
Drug therapy with antiretrovirals seems to have reach a plateau. They are just about as good as it can be, with patients being on the medication for life and coping with the various adverse effects. The consensus view is that the time is here to go the next step. A beacon of hope is found in the case of Timothy Brown; HIV positive and a leukemia patient to boot, Mr. Brown had a bone marrow transplant (NEJM). His donor was one of those rare individuals known to be genetically immune to the HI virus. Mr. Brown is himself now cured (some recent controversy). Transplants of this kind are not a serious suggestion for every HIV sufferer. It is far too invasive a procedure, but there is another promising route, called gene therapy. This is where a patientâ€™s own immune cells are engineered using HIV.
Last week President Obamaâ€™s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, was announced with the following 4 goals: â€œ1. Work toward the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive. 2. Increase coverage of HIV treatment, both to reduce AIDS-related mortality and to enhance HIV prevention. 3. Increase the number of males who are circumcised for HIV prevention. 4. Increase access to, and uptake of, HIV testing and counseling, condoms and other evidence-based, appropriately-targeted prevention interventions.”