There is still “a long way to go” to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but scientifically, there’s no reason the world can’t move toward the day when HIV infections and deaths from AIDS are rare, a federal official said Sunday.
Despite the many remaining challenges to achieve an “AIDS-free generation,” “the fact remains that right now today, in the summer of 2012, 31 years after the first case was reported, there is no excuse, scientifically, to say we cannot do it,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“What we need now is the political, organizational and individual will to implement what science has given us,” he said at a media briefing by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) at the 19th International AIDS Conference in the District.
Dr. Fauci recalled how he became an “AIDS physician” in summer 1981, when the first cases of the deadly sicknesses were reported in a group of gay men in Los Angeles. Back then, “the only thing we could do was put Band-Aid on hemorrhages” of desperately ill patients, Dr. Fauci said.
But the discovery of the virus, HIV testing, antiretroviral therapy — which decreases HIV viral load to undetectable levels and decreases the likelihood of transmission — combined with prevention and global campaigns against the disease, have all begun to force down the trajectory of the disease, he said.
“We still have a long way to go” to end the epidemic, as worldwide, there are 2.5 million new HIV infections, 1.7 million deaths, and 34 million people living with HIV, he said. But “if you go from 2.7 million new infections a year to 2.5 million, that’s good because you’ve gone down.”
The opening session of AIDS 2012 is slated to begin at 7 p.m. Sunday with remarks from conference co-chairwomen Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society and Diane Havlir, chief of HIV/AIDS division at the University of California at San Francisco; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; District Mayor Vincent Gray; and Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.
At the JAMA briefing, new research showed that in the United States, 16 percent of the 191,697 persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from 2007 to 2010 were foreign-born.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data does not indicate people’s date of entry into the U.S., “so it is not possible to know whether HIV infection preceded or followed immigration,” said the authors, which included CDC researcher H. Irene Hall.
Of the 31,000 foreign-born persons in the U.S. with HIV, about 74 percent were male. The most common ethnic background was Hispanic (58 percent), followed by foreign-born black (28 percent). The most common way HIV was transmitted among males was homosexual sex (71 percent) and heterosexual sex for females (92 percent).
Language and cultural barriers may prevent these persons from seeking help, said Ms. Hall, noting that the foreign-born category included naturalized citizens, students, skilled workers, family members of U.S. citizens, refugees and undocumented persons.