Hope everyone had a productive International Woman's Day! While you no doubt discovered the many ways that people around the world celebrated, including the awesome release of Planninctorock's record Misogyny Drop Dead, one item that is worth celebrating is the recent development in the battle against AIDS. The apparent cure of a baby born with HIV made international headlines around the world, sparking speculation that a more widespread cure might not be too far off. However, experts agree that while science has come closer to this triumph, we shouldn't be too quick to celebrate, nor lay off the initiatives that work to prevent the virus altogether.
In honour of IWD, the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) launched a short video on the subject that's well worth a watch. The short includes interviews with some of the people fighting the battle against this epidemic who stress the need for female-controlled HIV prevention tools.
One of the health tools that IPM is currently working on is an ARV-based vaginal microbicide ring which would ultimately provide a more discreet option for women to protect themselves from HIV prevention (it's currently in Phase III of its testing; results are expected in 2015). According to IPM's CEO, Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, the ring "slowly releases the ARV drug dapivirine over time to provide monthly protection against HIV." And if it's found to be safe and effective then, "IPM will seek regulatory approval and help ensure women in developing countries have access to it as soon as possible".
Recently, we had a chance to ask Dr. Rosenberg a few questions on the video, Real Voices, and the continuing fight against HIV:
How have researchers, like the ones featured in Real Voices, reacted to the recent development of the baby who was apparently cured of HIV?
Any news of a potential cure for HIV is reason to celebrate and commit to ongoing investment in research. This news is heartening, and more research is needed to understand its implications for the HIV prevention and treatment fields.
Forbes recently published a piece on another aspect that's critical to ending the AIDS epidemic. Any thoughts?
Mr. Sidibé's piece in Forbes highlights a critical element of the fight against HIV -- ending violence against women. As he notes, women often are unable to protect themselves from HIV for various reasons, including the threat of sexual violence. Ending violence and discrimination against women is not only a human rights imperative, but also a public health priority because it fuels the HIV epidemic. While microbicides won't end the violence that far too many women face, discreet, female-controlled, and long-acting prevention tools may help give women the ability to protect themselves from HIV when negotiating for condom use isn't practical or possible.
What can readers do to help?
Education is a powerful tool. IPM encourages readers to share Real Voices with family, friends, and colleagues and learn more about HIV prevention research by visiting the website, Twitter, and Facebook pages.
Only one quarter of the 1.1 million people with HIV have their condition under control, where "under control" means the virus has been suppressed, according to a report released this summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CORRECTION: The first sentence has been reworded to more accurately reflect the number of people with HIV.
Even though two men were, for a time, able to go off antiretrovirals because their HIV had been reduced to undetectable levels after receiving bone marrow transplants, the HIV eventually returned in the men, according to news reports. In 2012, the news of the men’s undetectable HIV levels made headlines. The men, who were both HIV positive and taking antiretroviral drugs, had received bone marrow transplants for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They had received the transplants while they were also taking the antiretroviral medication. However, in late 2013, preliminary results showed that the HIV had returned. This slide has been updated to note more recent developments related to the procedure.
New HIV infection rates can be dramatically lowered by making antiretroviral drugs free, a study from Canadian researchers found. The Canadian Press reported on the study, conducted by B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS researchers, which showed that British Columbia -- a province that offers free access to antiretroviral therapy -- had the lowest rate of new HIV infections over a more-than-10-year period, compared with Ontairio and Quebec.
More than half of HIV-infected young people are unaware that they have the virus, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. "Given everything we know about HIV and how to prevent it in 30 years of fighting the disease, it's just unacceptable that young people are becoming infected at such high rates," Reuters reported CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden saying. The report also showed that for young people, 72 percent of the new HIV infections were in men who have sex with men, while almost 50 percent were in young, African-American males, Reuters reported. These figures are based on 2010 data.
The number of people living with HIV has increased by 18 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to a report released this year from the United Nations Programme on AIDS. An estimated 34.2 million people around the world are living with HIV. The report also showed that deaths from AIDS have dropped, from 2.3 million in 2005-2006 to 1.7 million in 2011, Reuters reported.
According to the same United Nations report, costs for the cheapest UN-recommended antiretroviral therapy drugs have also decreased over the past 10 years, Reuters reported. A year's worth of the drugs used to cost $10,000 in 2000 for one person; now, it costs $100 a year.
The Food and Drug Administration this year officially approved the drug Truvada -- which has been used since 2004 as a treatment for HIV -- to be sold as a preventive measure for people who don't have the infection, but are at high risk for it. The FDA said that the pill should be considered for preventive use not only by gay or bisexual men who are at high risk for HIV, but also heterosexual men and women who may also face HIV risks, the Associated Press reported. Heterosexual men and women make up more than one-fourth of new cases of HIV, and "that's not a portion of the epidemic we want to ignore," the CDC's Dr. Dawn Smith, who was the lead author of the new recommendations, told the Associated Press. The FDA also approved a new drug this year, Stribild, to treat HIV, Reuters reported.
In findings published this year in the journal PLoS Pathogens, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles found that it's possible to genetically engineer stem cells to attack living HIV-infected cells in mice. While the study was only for "proof-of-principle," it "lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body," study researcher Dr. Scott G. Kitchen, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.
People should be screened for HIV even if they're not at high risk of contracting the infection, according to draft recommendations released just last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The recommendations would mean that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 should be screened for HIV, even if they're not at high risk for it, Reuters reported. "The prior recommendations were for screening high-risk adults and adolescents," Dr. Douglas Owens, a member of the USPSTF task force and a Stanford University medical professor, told Reuters. "The current recommendation is for screening everyone, regardless of their risk."
All HIV patients should be treated immediately with antiretrovirals, according to new guidelines issued this year from a panel of the International Antiviral Society-USA, as reported by TIME. The recommendations are counter to previous guidelines, which said that antiretrovirals should only be used if the CD4 count -- a measure of immune cells in a person's body -- becomes less than 350 cells for every mm3 of blood.
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