Saturday March 23, 2019

Experts Warn About The Return of AIDS Epidemic

In the U.S., HIV is increasingly an infection in communities with high rates of poverty and in black and Hispanic populations

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AIDS, Indonesia, HIV
Students with their faces painted with messages pose during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to mark the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, in Chandigarh, India, May 20, 2018. (VOA)

Thirty-six million people currently live with AIDS, a disease that claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people last year. Experts predict that by 2030, 100 million people will have been infected with the HIV virus.

Despite the alarming numbers, there have been great strides in treatment. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and researchers say people receiving treatment for HIV are able to live normal lives and do not pose a risk to others when they are being treated proactively.

But success carries a price: complacency. Funding for AIDS research and treatment has declined, and in some places, so has government interest.

“When we talk to ministers of finance, they always say to me, ‘I thought HIV was over because I don’t see anybody dying,’” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a U.S. Global AIDS coordinator who oversees the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “We’re not reaching goals.” He added, “There’s going to be a struggle to hold ground. … There’s a widening deficit of political will and financial capacity that we face some really daunting challenges in prevention.”

AIDS
A man walks past a banner tied on a bus before the start of a charity walk on HIV/AIDS at the Ebute Mata district in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, April 21, 2012. (VOA)

Dr. Chris Beyrer, with Johns Hopkins Medicine, predicted that things will get worse if governments and civilians continue their complacency.

“We are not done with AIDS,” he said. “It is much too early to declare victory, and the risks of a resurgent epidemic are real.”

Birx, Morrison and Beyrer discussed the challenges in ending AIDS at a program in Washington to evaluate the messages from this year’s International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.

New infections are down from 3.4 million a year, but they’re stuck at 1.8 million per year. And there are 17 million people living with HIV who cannot be reached. They are in high risk groups: young women, particularly young African women; men who have sex with men; IV drug users; those in prisons and other closed settings; sex workers and their clients; and transgender people.

“Those key populations and young women account for over 50 percent of new infections, and they are really hard to reach,” Morrison said.

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Though it’s relatively easy to prevent HIV transmission during childbirth, Beyrer said about 30 percent of all infants born with HIV worldwide are born in Nigeria.

In the U.S., HIV is increasingly an infection in communities with high rates of poverty and in black and Hispanic populations.

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The National Institutes of Health announced Aug. 20 that getting these groups into care is critical to ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. NIH also announced an international program to reduce the stigma around the virus so more people with the disease can seek treatment.

Experts agree it is possible to end the HIV pandemic, even without a vaccine. But to do this, governments and communities need to be involved, funding needs to be continued, and everyone with HIV needs to be treated. (VOA)

Next Story

Stem Cell Transplant Shows Promise For AIDS Treatment: Study

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people

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HIV
School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. (VOA)

Although the news of a second person being cured of HIV through stem cell transplant is exciting and may pave the way for future treatments, experts say the treatment may not work in case of all patients infected with the AIDS causing virus.

“The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, reducing its ability to fight diseases or infections,” Girish Badarkhe, Haematologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, told IANS.

“The stem cell transplant primarily involves reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. But there a small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations known as CCR5-delta 32,” he stressed.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, a man in London, who prefers to remain anonymous, was treated with stem cell transplants from donors with CCR5-delta 32 mutation. It made him resistant to HIV, just like the first cured case of Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the “Berlin patient”, a decade ago.

The London man was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and was put on anti-retroviral therapy in 2012. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the immune system.

After undergoing chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and also continued with anti-retroviral drugs for 16 months.

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Scientists have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS for close to 40 years. The director of UNAIDS called news that a man in London has been functionally cured of HIV a “breakthrough.” VOA

He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.

“While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system,” Badarkhe said.

“Stem cell transplants are an established treatment, particularly for blood related cancer with 70 per cent success rate. “In this case, he got cured both from cancer as well as the AIDS,” Badarkhe said.

Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV in 2017. With an HIV prevalence of 0.26 per cent in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people with HIV, shows UNAIDS data.

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“Besides, the stem cell therapy is also linked to increased death risks and is also not cost-friendly,” Badarkhe said.

However, experts are enthusiastic about the promise that the cure of the London patient showed.

“It is a positive news. But there is a need for more scientific facts and evidence to be established,” V. Sam Prasad, Country Programme Director at AIDS Healthcare Foundation India, told IANS.

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people. (IANS)