BOSTON – Researchers are getting more optimistic about the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections will take place in Boston Feb. 22-25, when emerging tools to control the epidemic will be presented, including easy-to-use prevention medicines and advances in vaccine research.
Scientific advances in the fight against AIDS have been outstanding over the past twenty years. Treatment regimens once required patients to take dozens of pills, some of which caused them debilitating side effects. But now, antiretroviral therapy only consists of a daily pill that patients can tolerate well in most cases.
Recent research have also revealed that infected people will have better health outcomes and are much less likely to transmit HIV to their partners if they begin their treatment as soon as they are diagnosed with the virus.
Another AIDS highlight that doctors have recently learned is that a daily pill, used for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), can be taken by individuals who are at high risk for HIV infection, including gay and bisexual men. If they take it exactly as prescribed, their HIV acquisition will be very unlikely, according to Dr. Kenneth H. Mayer, cochairman and medical research director of the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health.
Among other valuable findings, all this would indicate that the world is prepared to beat the AIDS epidemic once and for all. However, Dr. Mayer wrote for the Boston Globe that 1.5 million people around the globe become infected with the virus each year, while another one million die of AIDS.
Of course, it is still complicated to get every HIV-positive patient into care and ensure that they follow their treatment plans exactly as prescribed, particularly in regions where health care access is very limited.
What to expect from the conference
The findings of two large trials conducted in several countries of Southern Africa will be presented in Boston this week. Researchers examined the use of a vaginal ring which contains antiretroviral medication. The ring was inserted monthly during the trials, which were focused on enabling women to protect themselves from HIV transmission without the need for a condom used by their partners.
Should these studies be presented as successful, the rings could have a tremendous impact in decreasing the transmission of the virus. For future trials, researchers are already developing more advanced rings that would only have to be inserted every three months.
As for HIV vaccine development, researchers have been working to develop new bioengineered antibodies that have been very promising in animal trials. They have combined advances in immunology with cooperation by people who have been infected for decades but have immune systems that remain resilient. Interesting findings will be presented this week, informing the future development of HIV vaccines.
Dr. Mayer is optimistic. He says the end of AIDS will be achieved by supporting innovative research and using preventive antiretroviral medicines and emerging treatments.
Source: Boston Globe