In 2012, for the first time more than half of those eligible for HIV treatment around the world were receiving it, according to the UNAIDS Global Report. In 2016, U.S. public health officials are going even further, talking about ending the pandemic that has gripped the world for more than 30 years.
“Due to the investment in basic and clinical biomedical research related to HIV/AIDS, we have the tools to essentially end the HIV/AIDS pandemic as we know it in our lifetime,” said Plenary guest speaker Anthony S. Fauci, MD, in an interview before his address. Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Fauci has published a paper, “Ending the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: An Achievable Goal,” that outlines the scientific community’s progress in controlling HIV and treating patients living with the disease.
“Despite the extraordinary impact this epidemic has had on global society, we have accumulated over the years the scientific tools that, if we implement them appropriately with the right political and social will, will be able to turn around the trajectory of the epidemic,” he said. “Widespread testing and effective treating of people has the effect of bringing down the level of virus to below a detectable level by all of the assays we have.
“When you do that, you have the dual effect of not only saving the life of the person you are treating, but also making it extremely unlikely that the person will infect someone else because the level of virus in their body is so low.”
Treating HIV-infected individuals as a form of prevention of transmission of infection to others truly is effective, Dr. Fauci said. This is seen with the treatment of pregnant women and the decrease in transmission to infants. In addition, treatment of HIV-infected individuals results in a decrease in incidence of infection in the community.
“Mathematical modeling shows that if you treat a certain percentage of people who are infected, you are going to have the effect, over a few years, of dramatically diminishing the incidence of HIV in the national and global community,” Dr. Fauci said.
The progress in research also means that “a cure for HIV infection is no longer beyond the imagination,” he wrote in his paper.
“We know we can turn it around. The speed with which it happens is going to depend on the political and social will of putting enough resources in to accomplish the goal,” Dr. Fauci said.