Inside Story

Is a cure for HIV/AIDS imminent?

Drug-resistant HIV is increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa so we ask how much longer will we be fighting the virus.

An international AIDS conference that kicked off on Sunday night in Washington DC is calling for an AIDS-free generation. The motto of the conference is ‘Turning the tide Together’.

“We’ve done a lot of research around the vaccines. We’re still a number of years away from the vaccine but the key thing is it’s pulling all the research together looking at how we can move with the vaccine that could be rolled out across … the world but within that making sure that they can cover the different strains of HIV.

– Jason Warriner, the clinical director at Terrence Higgins Trust

The US capital has high HIV rates with numbers being comparable to some parts of sub-saharan Africa.

The aim of the conference is to bring together more than 20,000 people to discuss how to improve the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS.

John Kerry, a US senator, told the AIDS conference that all nations must do their part to fund the science needed for a future AIDS and HIV breakthrough.

“There are countries that can afford to deal with epidemics, but they are turning a blind eye and we know it,” said Kerry

Doctors and patients of HIV/AIDS are urging the international community not to forget about the disease, saying research funding must continue.

The virus was first identified in 1981 – when most of its victims were gay men and injecting drug users in the US.

“I’m skeptical about talk of vaccines and cure … we need to have a much broader-based strategy. We mustn’t over medicalise this problem …. In South Africa … we’ve got the world’s biggest publicly provided treatment programme …. But at the same time … round about 300,000 people are being infected every year so we are still losing that battle …. we still need to get to the people who are exposing themselves to the virus unnecessarily.

– Edwin Cameron, a Justice of the South African Constitutional court

Nearly 30 million people around the world have died of the disease since then with more than 34 million thought to be living with HIV now, the virus that causes AIDS.

There is no cure, but antiretroviral treatment is showing promising results.

This week the US approved a drug that could reduce the risk of infection by up to 75 per cent.

But very recently, experts writing in the Lancet medical journal found that drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the past ten years.

They said resistance of the virus could build up if people fail to stick to drug regimens, and because monitoring could be poor.

So, how much longer will we be fighting HIV/AIDS? And why is the West winning the battle against AIDS when the poor in developing countries are dying in the hundreds of thousands?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Mariano Esteban, the head researcher at the National Biotech Centre; Jason Warriner, the clinical director at Terrence Higgins Trust; and Edwin Cameron, a justice of the South African Constitutional court.

“The AIDS epidemic is fuelled by stigma, by hate, by misinformation, by ignorance, by indifference. There’s so much talk about the end of AIDS and rightly so. We can end AIDS.”

Elton John, singer



  • Biennial international aids conference is being held in Washington DC
  • Around 20,000 people are attending week-long conference on HIV/AIDS
  • Providing more treatment for HIV+ pregnant women is on the agenda of the conference
  • UN estimates that 34 million people live with HIV worldwide
  • UN says AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.7m last year, down from 1.8m
  • Decline in AIDS deaths is related to greater access to medication
  • UN wants pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of AIDS drugs
  • UN wants to improve access to low cost HIV treatments
  • There is no cure for AIDS but drugs can help stop spread of the virus
  • The Lancet medical journal says resistance to AIDS drugs is growing in Africa
  • Last year, $16.8b was spent fighting AIDS in poor countries
  • No cure or vaccine for AIDS but scientists say they can stop it
  • AIDS was first identified in 1981 among gay men and drug users in the US