July 28, 2015

HIV/AIDS fight advancing on multiple fronts, according to researchers

Written by CBC News

This post originally appeared on CBC’s website.

Preventive treatment extolled, but getting drugs to those in need still a huge challenge

Trying to eradicate HIV from all parts of the body has been “devilishly difficult,” says the president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

But encouraging developments in therapy and prevention were among the good-news stories coming out of the eighth international HIV/AIDS conference as the four-day meeting wound down in Vancouver on Wednesday.

The progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, from the grim forecasts of the 1980s and early ’90s, is “one of the great achievements in medicine and public health, honestly,” according to IAS president Dr. Chris Beyrer, a co-principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins Center for AIDS Research in Baltimore.

Two studies presented in Vancouver suggest that starting therapy before AIDS symptoms appear, or before levels of a certain kind of white blood cell falls below a specific threshold, can dramatically delay the development of AIDS-related events and death.

Previously, there has been concern that giving anti-retroviral therapy to asymptomatic patients earlier might increase patients’ risk of cardiovascular and renal disease.

A number of studies presented in B.C. focused on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) preventive treatment — which involves a healthy person taking anti-retroviral drugs prior to engaging in sex with an HIV-positive partner.

There was optimism related to results of PrEP studies that focused on men who engage in sex with men in U.S. cities, and on couples in Botswana, where the disease has spread through the heterosexual community.

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, told CBC News the stakes are too high for complacency now despite real progress.

“It is critically important that this effort be sustained … we need to be persistent and if we are persistent, we are going to see the end of the pandemic [by 2030],” he said.

Montaner is encouraged the United Nations has adopted the triple-90 goal by 2020 towards ending AIDS 10 years later:

  • 90 per cent of individuals aware of their HIV status.
  • 90 per cent of those infected on anti-retroviral therapy.
  • 90 per cent of those being treated showing undetectable viral loads.

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