End of HIV-AIDS soon?  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images
- WHO says HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed approximately 36.3 million (27.2–47.8 million) lives so far.
- The WHO says that though there is no cure for HIV infection, it has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.
- With increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care (including for opportunistic infections) HIV infection is now a manageable condition.
HIV and HIV-AIDS have come to be the two most dreaded terms in the last few decades. When it was first discovered, it was touted as a disease caused by sexual transmission alone. But soon enough, the world learnt that there were several ways in which one could contract this disease unsuspectingly, such as sharing needles during drug/substance abuse, using contaminated needles for blood works (tests, sample drawing, transfusion) etc.
Phyllis Kanki, Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences spoke to Amy Roeder the associate editor of Harvard Public Health. Kanki recalls that on June 5, 1981, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA’s CDC) published the first official report of the disease that would come to be known as AIDS.
When will we see the end of HIV-AIDS?
In recent interviews, researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health reflected on the successes and failures of the global response, and the work left to do to finally end the disease.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) targets the immune system and weakens people’s defence against many infections and some types of cancer than people with healthy immune systems can fight off. As the virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells, infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient.
The most advanced stage of HIV infection is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can take many years to develop if not treated, depending on the individual. AIDS is defined by the development of certain cancers, infections or other severe long-term clinical manifestations.
This is a heartening piece of news:
Phyllis Kanki now says that after a 40-year-long fight against AIDS, medics are ready to announce that the endgame of the global scourge is fast approaching.
“I’ve spent most of my career working on HIV—starting when I was a graduate student at the School soon after the virus was discovered. This disease is unique in the way that it impacted the whole globe—with different biology and epidemiology in different parts of the world.
“There were many regions of the world—largely poor—that had the greatest disease burden, and that also lacked access to treatments when they became available. I was glad to be part of the response that helped provide treatments and save millions of lives.
No vaccine or cure yet, but things may change soon:
“We’re approaching the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we’re not there yet. We need to stay committed to achieving prevention and treatment goals to ensure that it is not with us forever. Ten years from now, I’m hoping that AIDS will be a rare disease and that everyone who does have it will be able to access medications that work and allow them a high quality of life,”” Phyllis Kanki told Harvard Health Magazine.
Kanki added that it may be that a vaccine will come along that will decrease the risk of infection, but we must also brace for the fact that it’s likely that there will still be people on treatment for the long term.
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