Coinciding with the World AIDS Day, HIV experts assess the current situation in the treatment of disease and the prognosis of infected people. Today’s approach has changed HIV from a fatal disease to a treatable, chronic disease. However, only in 2016, 1.8 million new HIV infections were reported globally. Reports indicate that the most vulnerable groups are adolescents and young adults, as 59% of new infections occur among people aged 15-24.
AIDS figures in the world are frightening. Since the early 80s, when the first cases were repoted, the virus has infected 76.1 million people and caused 35 million deaths.
Although research has advanced by leaps and bounds in the fight against HIV, much remains to be done. The journal PLoS published this week a special issue in which experts from various institutions assess new progresses in prevention, treatment and cure of the disease. While it may seem that the goal of ending the epidemic is within our reach, the authors warn that the remarkable progress, activism, resources, creativity and overall strength that brought us this far will be needed at least in the same measure to end the pathology.
One of the collected works is an epidemiological study, led by Jacob Bor, researcher at Boston University (USA), on HIV care in South Africa in 2011-2012, when antiretroviral treatment depended on CD4 cell count.
After analyzing a cohort of more than 11,000 people, researchers found that patients eligible for immediate antiretroviral therapy were those who significantly attended more to medical consultation and paid more attention to their care, compared to those who did not meet the criteria for taking the drugs.
These findings support current recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide antiretroviral therapy regardless of CD4 count. “The real benefits of extending these drugs to all patients may be greater than previously thought,” the authors emphasize.
The ultimate goal: to cure AIDS
Now that treatments have make from HIV a chronic disease and many of those affected have managed to have a normal life, medicine faces the challenge of eradicating the virus. However, to date, only in a very few cases HIV infection has been cured.
In another research paper, the team of Andrew Badley, of the Mayo Clinic (USA), describes the case of a person with HIV who underwent allogeneic stem cells transplantation as a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Although the patient’s HIV reservoir decreased with the treatment, he suffered viral rebound after a prolonged period (288 days) without antiretroviral therapy. Despite the failure, for the authors these findings are valuable to guide future attempts to cure the virus using stem cell transplantation and other methods.
The latest WHO’s figures
In order to complement the campaign of World AIDS Day 2017, held every year on 1 December, WHO stresses the need to achieve universal health coverage for the 36.7 million people infected with HIV.
Only 70% of infected people know their serological status. HIV has already claimed over 35 million lives. In 2016, one million people died in the world for causes related to HIV.
Although a cure for the infection has not yet been found, effective antiretroviral therapy can control the virus and prevent transmission. 54% of adults and 43% of children with the virus take these drugs for their entire life.
Infection is typically diagnosed by tests that detect the presence or absence of antibodies against the virus. In most cases, the results are obtained on the same day. Fast results to diagnose the infection are vital to start treatment as soon as possible.
There are population groups that need special attention for being at increased risk of infection: men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, prisoners, sex workers and their clients, and transgender people.