World AIDS Day: 30 years of innovation, and more to come

It has been over 30 years since the virus that causes AIDS was first identified, an event that catalyzed a worldwide response for innovation to eradicate the disease. December 1st is World AIDS Day, a time to highlight the research that has yielded a range of options for prevention and treatment, and the need for strengthened efforts to address the many problems that remain.

Medical innovation changed the face of the disease

More than 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV today; between 1981 and 2007, over 25 million people died from HIV/AIDS (learn more facts from the resources linked below). The devastating impact of HIV was challenged by the response from medical innovators, most significantly in 1996 with the arrival of effective antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is a combination-drug approach that, along with other interventions, turned the disease from a death sentence into a liveable, chronic illness.

The call for further action

Despite how far treatment has come, despite the efficacy of existing antiretrovirals, we need innovative approaches for delivering existing therapy to the >9 million people who cannot currently access it, and for developing new drugs, diagnostics and public health measures to do more.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, emphasized these needs in her speech in June at the 2011 High-level meeting on AIDS held in New York. A panel discussion at the same event encouraged innovative approaches for more effective, less toxic, and less expensive treatments to increase access to therapy in the developing world.

After all this time, why is it still around?

While ART in HIV-positive patients goes a long way toward managing the virus’ effects, it does not eradicate the virus from the body. Issues that still contribute to the virus’ transmission and lingering effects include:

  • Patient compliance to their (often complicated) treatment regimen
  • Drug toxicity
  • Cost of antiretroviral therapy
  • Drug-resistant HIV strains
  • Education about preventive measures and safety

These are all opportunities for those involved in basic science, clinical research, public health, and policy to continue the push for developing a vaccine and decreasing the impact of the disease in the world.

Learn more