US Official: We Have the Tools to End AIDS Now


30 November, 2017

Friday, December 1st marks the 30th World AIDS Day.

One aim of the event is to show support for people living with HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Another aim is to remember the people who have died from conditions related to AIDS.

Since 1984, about 35 million people have died from HIV and AIDS-related diseases. This number makes "it one of the most destructive pandemics in history," according to the World AIDS Day website.

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, released a report before the World Day observances on Friday.

The report noted progress in containing HIV. It said 21 million people who have the virus are getting treatment. That number is more than half of all people living with HIV.

The UN's goal is to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

American Anthony Fauci has been working in the fight against AIDS since the 1980's. At that time, an HIV infection was considered a death sentence. Now people with the virus can expect to have a normal life if they get treatment.

Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the United States government's National Institutes of Health. He says that we have "the ability to end the pandemic as we know it."

"What I mean is that we have extraordinarily effective drugs. But recently those drugs have been shown – over the past few years – not only to save lives of the people who take the drugs, but also to bring the level of virus in an infected person so low, below detectable level, that it makes it virtually impossible for that person to transmit the virus to someone else."

However, people taking medications face the same problems as anyone else who takes medicines on a daily basis.

Not everyone remembers to take their medications, and doctors' prescriptions often need to be renewed.

Sixteen million people infected with HIV are not getting treatment. Many in this group do not know they have the disease, so they continue to spread the virus. Some of them are lacking in healthcare, so they don't get tested.

UNAIDS reports that some 1.8 million people became infected with HIV in 2016. That estimate is 39 percent lower than the number of newly-infected people in the late 1990s.

In African countries south of the Sahara Desert, new HIV infections have fallen by 48 percent since 2000.

However, the report notes that new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have risen by 60 percent since 2010. In addition, AIDS-related deaths have increased by 27 percent.

Even with the tools we have, Fauci does not see an end to the AIDS pandemic without an HIV vaccine.

Several years ago, researchers tested an experimental AIDS vaccine in Thailand. That vaccine was 31 percent effective.

By comparison, the measles vaccine protects up to 99 percent of those who get vaccinated.

Fauci told VOA he is not sure if scientists can develop an AIDS vaccine that would be as effective. But he adds that even a vaccine with 50 or 60 percent effectiveness combined with other measures "could turn around the trajectory of the epidemic and essentially end it as we know it."

Another vaccine trial is taking place in South Africa. The results will not be available until 2019 at the earliest, and there is no way of telling if that vaccine will be good enough to help end AIDS.

For now, testing, anti-AIDS drugs, and changes in behavior are three tools to limit the spread of AIDS, according to UNAIDS.

Behavioral change includes limiting the number of sexual partners, using clean needles and syringes, and using condoms during sexual activity.

Both Fauci and UNAIDS say ending AIDS is up to the world community – and how much effort and money it is willing to use toward the goal.

I'm John Russell.

Carol Pearson reported on this story for VOANews. John Russell adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pandemic – n. a situation in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area

according – adv. as stated by or in

detectable – adj. capable of being discovered or noticed

transmit – v. to cause (a virus or disease) to be given to others

medication – n. a substance used in treating disease or easing pain

prescriptionn. written directions for use of a medicine

trajectory – n. the curved path along which something (such as a rocket) moves through the air or through space -- often used figuratively to describe a process of change or development that leads toward a particular result

needle – n. a very thin, pointed steel tube that is pushed through the skin so that something (such as a drug) can be put into your body or so that blood or other fluids can be taken from it

condom – n. a thin rubber covering that a man wears during sex to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant or to prevent the spread of diseases