AIDS: No ready cure, but eradication 'on the horizon'

Scientists and activists have said eradicating AIDS is feasible, even if no cure for the infection has been found yet, as long as HIV prevention continues to grow worldwide.


Monday marked World AIDS Day across the globe, with campaigners saying the epidemic could finally be under control and could one day be wiped from the planet entirely.

“There have been significant advances in the treatments that are available, and this certainly means HIV becomes a manageable illness,” Jonathan Ball, a virologist and a professor at the University of Nottingham told FRANCE 24.

“But we must differentiate between treatment and a cure. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything in the armoury yet that will cure HIV,” Ball added. “So people who are infected and are on these treatments have to continue those for the rest of their lives.”

The ONE campaign, a leading group fighting HIV, said the world had “passed a tipping point” in the battle to end the epidemic.

The number of people newly infected with HIV over the last year was lower than the number of HIV-positive people who joined those getting access to the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that keep AIDS at bay.

Professor Ball said reaching the United Nations target of eradicating AIDS by 2030 was feasible because ARVs have proved so efficient in lowering transmission.

“These drugs really lower the amount of virus that is circulating in the patient, and therefore the virus finds it very difficult to be transmitted onwards,” he explained. “Eventually, what you will do is hopefully eradicate the virus that way.”

Resurgence in Uganda

The United Nations AIDS agency, UNAIDS, says that, by June 2014, some 13.6 million people globally had access to AIDS drugs, a dramatic improvement on the five million who were getting treatment in 2010.

However, campaigners warned that the fight against HIV/AIDS was far from over, with some countries still lagging dangerously behind.

“Not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel,” said Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s director of global health policy.

UN data show that in 2013, 35 million people were living with HIV, 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus and some 1.5 million people died of AIDS. By far the greatest part of the HIV/AIDS burden is in sub-Saharan Africa.

Uganda has even seen a resurgence in the epidemic. Between 2007 and 2013 the number of Ugandans infected with HIV rose from 1.2 million to 1.6 million, according to Uganda's Ministry of Health.

Observers also worry about a shortfall in the funds needed each year to control HIV around the world, as donors become “AIDS tired.”

“We want to see bold new funding from a more diversified base, including more from African domestic budgets,” ONE’s Hohlfelder said.


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