It’s been a good year in the fight against AIDS. For example, in November 2009, the United Nations reported that global HIV infections remained stable at 33 million for the past two years, and they believe that infection rates may have reached their peak in the late 1990s.
Why have infection rates stabilized? The WHO and others suggest that increased world-wide access to antiretroviral drugs may be a reason. Forty-two percent of people in the developing world now have access to drugs that increase the life span and decrease viral loads in the patients who use them, perhaps reducing the likelihood of passing the infection to others. Several organizations, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Clinton Foundation, and the Gates Foundation have helped to make this increased access possible.
The CDC and the NIH are planning major studies in two large U.S. cities to determine what effect improved diagnosis and treatment for HIV+ people might have on reducing HIV infection rates across the community.
This year has also brought interesting news regarding development of an HIV vaccine. A study in Thailand showed a two-vaccine combination resulted in a modest infection reduction rate. Although the vaccine appeared to lose effectiveness over time, it is the first time researchers have been encouraged that HIV immunization might work.
Regarding treatment, The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a case study about a patient who had both HIV and leukemia. The patient received a stem cell transplant for the leukemia. Interestingly, the donor blood had a rare gene mutation that was immune to HIV. Now, the patient has no detectable HIV in his blood.
While this therapy has serious drawbacks—this type of donor blood is rare and there is a 30 percent risk of death from having a stem cell transplant, it make one wonder if parts of the concept might one day be part of a cure.
Finally, in 2009, the Obama administration lifted a ban that prevented HIV+ foreigners from entering the U.S., citing that we must make these decisions based on fact and save lives by encouraging HIV testing.