Health, Lifestyle

Is the end of AIDS close?

Until a few years ago, the end of this epidemic seemed unlikely However, scientific developments, political support and community response have started to show hope.

Vivian Collazo Montano

According to the most recent report by UNAIDS, new infections in 2011 dropped, and more people than ever are able to live with the HIV virus, greatly due to a better access to treatment. This has helped reduce the number of deaths related to the virus, especially during recent years.

Based on these hopes, scientists, politicians and members of society gathered two weeks ago at the 19th International AIDS Conference, in Washington, USA. There they presented the latest news and ways of ending the transmission of the disease, and also the possibility of finding a cure.

Javier Martínez-Picado, professor at the AIDS Research Institute-IrsiCaixa in Spain told Prensa Latina that there is a lot of work underway, some very advanced

The first thing to be done is find shorter treatments that could be stopped after a period of time without risk of having the virus reactivate in the patient’s blood. This will not only improve patients’ quality of life, but also infection levels and prices, added Martínez.

The future from the present

There is currently work being done in several main directions. The first is to intensify and optimise retroviral therapy, which could lead to an ability to stop the replication of the virus.

Secondly, pharmaceutical companies are working on more efficient treatments, which could awaken dormant cells to fight the virus. The treatments also aim to improve the patients’ immune response and maintain the virus at low levels.

Another aspect of the work refers to genetic therapy, which is using two strategies.

The first is to try to free the DNA from the virus, while the other is to activate a gene that blocks the virus, making people resistant to it.

This is the case for the “Berlin patient”, an HIV positive patient in 2007 who had a bone marrow transplant and was cured, although this method cannot be used in all cases due to its complexity and cost. It does however, shine new light on finding a strategy for a cure.

Despite this, focus must still be given to prevention, treatment, assistance and education.

The road to find a cure to the disease is long and requires a lot of effort. We can’t give a date, but we do have to try, and in order to do it we must make progress in our current research and start new ones, added Martínez.

Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci, director at the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease, USA, says a number vaccines to prevent AIDS are being studied, although there is no way to know when an effective vaccine will be available.

Fauci told Prensa Latina that he acknowledged that for years several trials have been carried out, but all have failed. “It’s a very complicated challenge”, he said.

He did however considered it possible to work on the infection and change the course of the pandemic.

Fauci pointed out that “there are no talks about curing” the disease, an uncertain aim so far. We are talking about the end of the pandemic, but it refers to the fact that after a time there will be less cases of new infections, which will allow for a generation completely free of AIDS.

The road is still long.

That’s why many specialists acknowledge the limitations and lack of resources needed to start new research, as well as widening access to retroviral treatments, particularly in poorer countries.

On the other hand, the high infection rates in vulnerable sectors (women, men who have sex with other men, sex workers, transgendered and intravenous drug users), drive the decision makers to reevaluate their strategies.

Rejection, stigma and discrimination towards people with HIV/AIDS, affect the possibility of battling the pandemic.

There are many challenges to face. We must fighting the disease in Africa, the most affected continent, as well as give treatment to more people in the early stages, and modify policies, among other things.

(Translated by David Buchanan)

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