About 30 years ago, it was a considered a death sentence for anyone who caught it. These days more and more people are able to live with HIV/AIDS, thanks to advances in treating the disease.
This week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug aimed at preventing HIV infection.
"[Research is being done on finding] a functional cure, to take an infected person who doesn't control the virus very well and change their immune system, cellular make-up or immune response so that they can control it without treatment, without drugs, without being infectious."
- David Margolis, an expert on HIV
And on Thursday, scientists launched a new strategy towards the big prize of HIV/AIDS research – finding a cure.
The UN AIDS programme says related deaths dropped to 1.7 million last year from a peak of 2.3 million in 2005, a decline driven by greater access to medication in low- to middle-income countries.
Despite the advances, much work remains to be done.
The UN also estimates that worldwide some 34 million people still live with HIV, and that the epidemic could last for another 40-50 years.
In the US, it is African Americans who are disproportionately affected, making up half of the one million people living with HIV.
According to a new report, AIDS is affecting black gay men in the US on a scale unseen among any other group in the developed world.
"Drug pricing is a major issue not only in the US but across the world. It is not sustainable to be spending $20,000 per patient per year and the largest AIDS drug manufacturer is one of the most profitable companies…a really big limitation on the access to drug."
- Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Ahead of the 19th International AIDS conference taking place in Washington DC, Barack Obama, the US president, has faced criticism from campaigners for what they say is "lukewarm priority" on fighting the virus.
Steven Deeks, a professor of medicine at the University of California and one of those involved in the new push towards a cure, discussed the state of current AIDS research and strategies for the future.
"Now that we've achieved what we can with the current strategies the field has begun to shift toward really what we think is the optimal intervention, which is essentially to come up with a short-term, safe, affordable, scalable intervention that would essentially either eliminate the virus completely or modify the immune system so that it can control the virus in the absence of therapy…a cure."
Inside Story Americas asks: How much longer will we be fighting HIV/AIDS?
Joining the discussion with presenter Anand Naidoo are guests: Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation; Phill Wilson, the founder and executive director of the Black AIDS institute; and David Margolis, an expert on HIV from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina.
"We have to do a better job on prevention, both marrying behavioral prevention and biomedical interventions, we need to ramp up our efforts to try to get to a vaccine…if we can find a cure, ultimately that needs to be the goal."
Phill Wilson, the founder and executive director of the Black AIDS institute
HIV INFECTIONS WORLDWIDE:
The UN says the rate of new infections is actually dropping around the world. Between 1997 and 2010, the yearly rate of new HIV infections fell 21 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, the rate of new infections has dropped more than 26 per cent since 1997. But the problem there is still serious – the region saw 70 per cent of all new HIV infections in 2010.
AIDS IN THE UNITED STATES:
- More than one million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the US
- An estimated 18 per cent of Americans do not know they are infected
- One in four Americans with HIV have their virus well controlled
- Each year about 50,000 Americans are newly infected
- One person is infected with HIV in the US every 9.5 minutes
- In 2011 an estimated 20,000 people in the US died of AIDS-related illness
- Homosexual males in the US are the most severely affected by HIV