Inside Story

Finding a cure: The future of AIDS

As HIV remains the world's leading infectious cause of death, how successful is the global fight against the disease?

Last Modified: 22 May 2013 08:46
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It has been 30 years since French researchers identified HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, that causes AIDS.

A cure for HIV is probably many years off, although there has been great progress in the past few years towards the development of a cure, using multiple strategies. We are focused on a preventive HIV vaccine, that could be used to immunise individuals who are at risk for acquiring HIV, and enabling them to prevent an infection for being established after HIV exposure

James Kublin, the executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network

Three decades on, and much has been done to treat and prevent the disease, but researchers believe a cure may still be years away.

More than 60 million people worldwide are estimated to have been infected by HIV, and some 25 million people have died from illnesses related to the infection; about 34 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but many have also lived with much more: prejudice, discrimination and even abuse.

Richard Fairbrass was, and still is, a member of the British cult band, Right Said Fred. He is gay and free of HIV, but his partner for more than 25 years years, Stuart Pantry, developed AIDS and was one of the first in Britain to undergo experimental drug treatment in the early 1990s. He died of cancer in 2010, at the age of 45. 

Fairbrass told Inside Story, that things have come a long way since those early days:

"Things have changed a lot .... everybody was scared, partly because we didn't know, nobody knew ... exactly how was it transmitted .... It was a very fearful time .... [Now] attitudes are more relaxed about HIV, because it is a more treatable condition, having said that, it still kills people, if there is anybody out there who thinks that HIV is fine, because they can just take some tablets and it will somehow go away, and it will entirely manageable, that it is still not the case," Richard Fairbrass, told Al Jazeera. 

Great strides have been made towards reducing the number of people infected with HIV, but it is still a mixed picture.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than 23 million of the 34 million or so reported infections across the world, and South Africa has the highest number for any country, at a little over 5.5 million.
However, the latest figures show a 50 percent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections in 25 low and middle-income countries over the past decade.
But it is not all good news, the number of newly infected people has risen in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Russia, for example, new infections increased by 50 percent from 40,000 in 2006 to 60,000 in 2011.

So what possible solutions can be implemented to stop the spread of HIV? Are misconceptions still shaping perceptions about the disease? And how much time it will take before scientists can find the cure for HIV/AIDS?

Joining Inside Story, with presenter David Foster, are guests: Helen Rees, the executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute; and James Kublin, the executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

"South Africa has indeed made enormous strides in terms of getting people onto treatment, now we've got nearly 2,000,000 people on treatment, and when we started we just had tens of thousands through the private sector so this is been an extraordinary achievement.

There is several things that had made it much easier .... The cost has come down dramatically, I think there have been really massive breakthroughs in the way the world views access to medicines, and the cost of medicines for poor countries and that is a stride in and of itself ... it is not only the cost that has increased access, we have a health minister who is been completely committed to pushing people to test, because with the stigma attached to HIV a lot of people don’t want to come forward for testing, once you offer people treatment there is a reason to test, people feel confident that something will be done if they test positive, and if you have more public debate .... I think all of these things together have really  pushed us into the direction of easier access."

- Helen Rees, the executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute


Al Jazeera
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