Since the emergence of HIV as a pandemic in the late 1970’s, good news has been rare. With remorseless efficiency the retrovirus has eluded decades of medical interventions. But there is cause for hope, and one huge lucky break. Although the medications that are effectively allowing people with HIV to stay healthy do not eliminate the virus, and in spite of the fact that it rapidly mutates– treating HIV reduces the risk of infecting others. From BBC News…
The [antiretroviral] drugs reduce the amount of virus in the blood, and cut the risk of an infected person passing HIV on.
Last year, at the UN General Assembly, governments agreed to set the goal of getting 15 million HIV-infected people worldwide on the life-saving antiretroviral medicines by 2015.
The WHO says this target could be within reach – provided countries can sustain current rates.
And it says about eight million people in low and middle-income countries are getting the treatment they need, up from just 0.4 million in 2003.
Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO’s HIV department, said: “The challenge now is to ensure that global progress is mirrored at all levels and in all places so that people, whoever they are and wherever they live, can obtain antiretroviral therapy when they need it.”
It was not until the 1980’s that it was possible to test for HIV, and in the 90’s a test was developed that could measure the viral load.
It was not a sure thing that treating people with HIV would reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Early drugs, like AZT, caused the virus to mutate into resistant forms and did not do much more than buy time for AIDS patients. Still, lives were saved and in time better drugs were developed. With the PCR test that measures the amount of viral copies in the blood it is possible to know how effective a particular drug is for a patient. There are more drugs, and cheaper, and easier to take.
Too long, and too much grief, but it is possible to see the end of this epidemic.
And a pandemic, like other natural disasters, shows how interconnected we are. It is not possible to eliminate the threat of HIV without caring for people across social and national lines. We are one human race and we succeed or fail together.
MORE: Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times says South African coffin makers are seeing a decline in business.
And The Providence Journal reports that AIDS deaths have declined sharply since 1993. Intravenous drug use is still a cause of new infections. If you know anyone who might be at risk, AIDS Care Ocean State has information on needle exchange and harm reduction.