November 26, 2013
On this World AIDS Day, we are reminded of both how far we have come and how far we still need to go in the battle against HIV/AIDS. In The Dallas Buyers Club, a movie based on the real life experience of a man infected with HIV in the early 1980's, the main character is told by an emergency room physician that he is infected with HIV, has advanced AIDS, and has at most 30 days to live. What follows is a story of courage and determination that reminds us of what it meant to get a diagnosis of AIDS back in the days when there was only one approved drug for its treatment – AZT – and how short-lived a person's hopes might be. Today we have over 3 dozen drugs approved for treatment and AIDS, for most, has become a chronic but treatable disease.
Not only are there more drugs available, but many more people infected with HIV are receiving anti-retroviral therapy (ART) thanks to PEPFAR and other programs committed to the scale-up of treatment around the world. UNAIDS reports that at the end of 2012, 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving lifesaving treatment. However, we also know that new infections outpace those who get into treatment, with about 2.3 million new infections in 2012. In the Republic of South Africa alone, there are over 1000 new infections per day, and worldwide 1.6 million people died of AIDS-related illness.
So, with many new infections each year, we need lasting and efficient ways to keep ourselves safe from HIV and control this devastating pandemic. One tool that will surely make a big difference in saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus will be a safe and effective preventive vaccine, and the mission of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is to develop such a vaccine for the world. The Network has conducted 59 research trials with over 15,000 volunteers, and we continue to learn more about HIV, the human immune system and how best to stimulate the body's own defenses against infection. The journey has been a long one, and as with all research there have been disappointments along the way. But with the active support of HIV prevention advocates and communities, study sponsors, vaccine developers and most vital of all, study volunteers, we will continue to work toward a future free of HIV. On this World AIDS Day 2013 we have much to be thankful for, but we must not lose sight of what must be done and to continue to do the work required for us to achieve our mission. This requires a global effort, global mobilization, and the recognition globally, that we are in this together.
Dr. James Kublin
Executive Director, HIV Vaccine Trials Network