Not so long ago Hilary Clinton famously said that we now have a historic opportunity to “usher in an AIDS-free generation.”
Compared to just a decade ago, we have come a long way in tackling the disease. From much discussion of a ‘functional cure,’ including the ‘Berlin Patient,’ the ‘French cohort’ and most recently, the ‘Mississippi baby’ – to newly available single pill regimens, it now seems that medical science is able to stop HIV in its tracks and stop progression to AIDS. People living with HIV can, now more than ever, look forward to a bright and vibrant future.
So, Hilary might be on to something.
But an AIDS-free generation is not the same as an HIV-free generation. Much like a vine, the disease must be cut off at its roots to truly be free of it, and this still needs work.
HIV remains a global problem including access issues to modern drugs in the developing world and alarmingly rising rates in the developed. Worryingly, according to a recent Lancet article, HIV in London’s gay community continues to “soar”1 and stats released from the WHO just last week showed that HIV infection rates across the wider European area are increasing by 8%, year on year.2 If we still can’t slow new infections, could an AIDS-free generation become a generation able to just control HIV, rather than defeat it?
I don’t know the answer to this question. It’s too big for such a short piece. But what I do know is that the history of HIV tells us that all the players have to work together.
Early this year I saw the Oscar-nominated documentary film, How To Survive A Plague,3 a monumental film, that showed what can be achieved when patient activists and groups work with the pharmaceutical industry and regulators to drive medical advancements. Driven by strong patient activism, partnership delivered the first medical breakthroughs against HIV.
Following World AIDS day, we should celebrate that AIDS is being reigned in and brought under control, but we must not take our eye off the underlying problem, HIV. We should toast the successes achieved to give people with HIV the life they can now expect. But, as members of the healthcare community – we must continue to play our part in ensuring collaboration continues and together, as industry, patients and governments, we must work to defeat HIV and truly usher in an AIDS-free generation.
1. Kirby T, Thornber-Dunwell M. New HIV diagnoses in London’s gay men continue to soar. The Lancet. 2013; 382(9889): 295
2. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control/WHO Regional Office for Europe. HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe 2012. Stockholm: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control; 2013.
3. How To Survive A Plague Trailer available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwhFS1mUaVY