AIDS drugs continue to amaze

Microsoft Word - Figure THEOCHEM D 06-00741.docIt is both informative and inspiring to take note of the 180-degree change in the nature of the global AIDS epidemic from time to time. Today s news provides a fine opportunity to do just that.

Once written off as hopeless, Africa has witnessed some remarkable changes in the management of HIV over the past decade. Although AIDS is not yet the chronic, manageable disease that it has become in the West, there are signs that this may eventually be possible.

A poignant article in this week s Christian Science Monitor concludes, AIDS turning point: South Africa is the worst-hit country in the worst-hit region of the epidemic. But the disease is no longer an acute emergency. The spread of infection has slowed sharply and those infected are living close-to-normal lives. Still, an exhausted nation deals with the aftereffects.

All of this is nothing short of miraculous considering the nearly-impossible task of providing low-cost, effective drugs to huge numbers of people in the most afflicted areas on earth.

But that is exactly what is happening.

Yesterday, the United Nations AIDS Program delivered some more good news: in 7 of the hardest hit sub-Saharan countries, perinatal (mother to newborn) transmission of HIV has been cut by 50 percent by treating HIV-positive pregnant women with powerful drugs.

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS executive director said, The progress in the majority of countries is a strong signal that with focused efforts every child can be born free from HIV.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a former researcher in the field, says that this is nothing short of amazing: Only ten years ago there were many reliable predictions, based on what appeared to be the relentless onslaught of the virus, that Africa would be completely devastated by HIV. Yet, with the availability and widespread use of extremely effective antiretroviral drugs, things have changed in ways that no one could have possibly predicted.

This latest study is not an isolated incident. Rather, it is the continuation of a series of breakthroughs that have all been game changers. For example, in 2011 a study showed that HIV-positive men who took antiretroviral drugs were 96 percent less likely to pass the virus on to an uninfected woman something that no one in his or her right mind would have ever predicted a decade ago.

Dr. Bloom wrote a 2011 op-ed entitled How Far We ve Come in the Battle Against AIDS, which discusses two major breakthroughs at that time. His piece can be read here.