By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
29 November 2013
“If we channel our energy and compassion into science-based results,” President Obama’s World AIDS Day proclamation states, “an AIDS-free generation is within our reach.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is at the forefront of U.S. medical research on improved HIV treatments, infection prevention methods, effective vaccines and, ultimately, a cure.
NIH and the U.S. research community “have developed more than 30 life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and drug combinations for treating HIV infection,” according to a statement issued by NIH leadership. These efforts led to the discovery that ARV drugs help prevent transmission of the virus from an HIV-positive person to a partner, as the medications reduce the level of the virus in the bloodstream.
U.S. and international programs over the last decade expanded global access to ARV drugs. These medications now are distributed to 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries. The NIH leaders say researchers continue work to improve ARV drugs to become “longer-acting, simpler to use and with fewer side effects.”
NIH and international partners are pursuing research to improve prevention efforts through expanded voluntary HIV testing, better delivery of ARV treatment and other prevention services. These programs are underway in South Africa and Zambia, where 1.2 million people in 21 communities are participating in the studies.
The search for a vaccine against HIV has been underway for decades, but the changing nature of the virus has made the work “challenging and marked by disappointments,” the NIH statement said. At the same time, new tools are being identified that might speed vaccine research. And a vaccine trial in Thailand produced some limited results that offer promise with further investigation.
Diligent research offers hope that further progress is within reach. President Obama is reaching out to other leaders to enlist new partners to better leverage U.S. investments in international treatment of the disease. The Obama administration will host a conference December 2–3, drawing world leaders to Washington to demonstrate commitment to fighting the pandemic and providing the funding to help more people worldwide in the days ahead.
Members of the governing board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed optimism in November that this Washington replenishment conference will attract additional funding commitments in excess of $9 billion.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another U.S. agency deeply involved in the international campaign against HIV/AIDS. CDC provides support in public health and disease prevention to ministries of health in more than 70 countries. The U.S. agency is helping public health counterparts in other nations to introduce strategies for preventing the transmission of the virus and creating sustainable health systems to support HIV-infected persons. These efforts are also applying a framework for stronger public health programs, which will ultimately offer more extensive health care services for populations overall.
With accelerated resources and energy being devoted to the campaign against HIV/AIDS, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his AIDS Day statement, “I am more optimistic than ever.” But along with medical and scientific progress, he also called for progress against social discrimination, which further exacerbates the burden of the disease.
“We must recommit to breaking the remaining barriers, including punitive laws and social exclusion, so we can reach all people who lack access to HIV treatment and services,” Ban said.
The U.S.-focused National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), issued by President Obama in 2010, is also emphasizing the need to end discrimination this World AIDS Day. As part of the NHAS, officials are reaching out to the public in a campaign called “Facing AIDS” to encourage testing, proper health care, HIV/AIDS education and support for people living with the disease.