By Catherine Murombedzi
IT is possible to end Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by 2030, if you and I work together to achieve this.
By starting treatment early if found to be HIV positive.
Because a person taking antiretroviral medication correctly, with the medication working efficaciously achieves a suppressed viral load.
What is the benefit of a suppressed viral load, one may ask?
A person with a suppressed viral load cannot pass on the HIV virus.
When the HIV virus is undetectable it is unpassable.
AIDS has been the most serious epidemic threatening to wipe out entire generations.
The world has been in a quandary; about 35 million people have succumbed to AIDS since the first case was reported in 1982.
With science jolted into overdrive, working day-and-night medication was urgently needed.
Medication to halt the mutation of the virus was also needed; so was medication to stop further spread of the virus; medication to give a new lease of life to those living with the virus.
Please note well; no ‘cure’ has been found as yet.
There have been two reported cases of a ‘cure’.
This is through stem cell replacement in Germany, which is beyond the reach of many.
A major breakthrough took place in 1996 when Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) to suppress viral replication to minimal levels was found.
However, HAART was too expensive and complex for low-to-middle-income countries, with the exception of Brazil and a few others.
Then only brand medication available was very expensive for most countries.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) came into existence thereby giving relief, reports the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The coming in of generic medicine saw the lowering of drug prices, thanks to India which became known as the ‘Third World Pharmacy’.
With the virus under control through HAART, more still needs to be done.
Scientists need one to get an injection against the HIV virus.
We are familiar with vaccine jabs for children.
Yes, adults get vaccines too.
When intending to travel to a foreign country, one is required to get vaccinated for malaria, yellow fever and any other disease stated by the country to be visited.
So, a vaccine is the way to go in the fight against AIDS, and science is up to scratch to the task on finding an HIV vaccine with studies on-going.
Speaking in Harare, in December 2015, during the Conference on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Africa (ICASA), Dr Thumbi Ndung’u of the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, said vaccines take long to develop and have to go through a rigorous series of tests before they are ready for use on humans as efficacy and safety for humans has to be proved.
“Vaccines take time, expertise and research to be finally given the green light. In 1909 up to 1954, the world battled polio and it took 47 years to have an effective polio vaccine approved. So vaccines are complex and people need to understand that we are not behind in getting an HIV vaccine; work is on-going and HIV has been around for more than 30 years and so work is in progress,” Dr Ndug’u said.
Dr Ndung’u explained in simple language that a vaccine is a substance that teaches the body’s immune system to recognise a virus that it is not affected by it again because it would have been given already and adjusted to having it in the body.
In Durban, at the AIDS Conference in July 2016, Michel Sidibé, then UNAIDS executive director said it was possible to have an AIDS-free generation.
“With science showing that starting treatment as early as possible has the dual benefit of keeping people living with HIV healthy and preventing HIV transmission, many countries have now adopted the gold-standard policy of treat-all. Our efforts are bringing a strong return on investment. AIDS-related deaths have been cut by nearly half from the 2005 peak. But our quest to end AIDS has only just begun. We live in fragile times where gains can easily be reversed. The biggest challenge to moving forward is complacency. A vaccine will surely change the face of HIV,”said Sidibe.
Vaccines have saved lives. The smallpox vaccine, introduced by Edward Jenner in 1796, was the first successful vaccine to be developed, reports WHO.
A vaccine protects by helping the body develop immunity to a particular disease. Smallpox is the only disease to have been globally eradicated.
With the world committed to ‘Ending AIDS by 2030’, a vaccine is on the horizon.
This holds hope to an AIDS-free generation. With less new infections reported, the ideal situation would be to have zero new infections by closing the tap.