photo credit: worldbank photo collection
For more than 25 years, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has destroyed lives and devastated communities around the globe. Today, AIDS is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide, claiming more than two million lives a year. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, there were still as many as 7,000 new HIV infections every day. Certain populations, including women in developing countries and men who have sex with men, are particularly vulnerable.
There is no cure for AIDS, but effective antiretroviral (ARV) treatments have been available since the mid-1990s. Treatment remains out of reach for men, women and children in many countries. However, over the past decade, the world has stepped up its efforts to make ARVs accessible to all who need them – putting 3 million people on treatment that could not otherwise have afforded it.
Improved access to HIV treatment is essential, but the world will never treat its way out of the HIV pandemic. The social and economic burden of HIV will continue to grow, and people will continue to become infected. Efforts to prevent HIV transmission must be expanded and sufficiently funding. These efforts include education, increased access to existing prevention methods, and research and development into new prevention technologies that can complement and expand on current strategies.
Historically, vaccines have been the most effective way to stop the spread of disease. Research institutions, product development partnerships and companies around the world are working to develop an HIV vaccine – though a successful vaccine could be decades away. In the meantime, other promising prevention technologies are under development. They include microbicides – topical products to prevent HIV transmission during sex – and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). These technologies could be available much sooner than a vaccine, and could offer vulnerable populations new ways to protect themselves. Microbicides, for instance, could give women the power to prevent HIV infection.
For these efforts to succeed, they will need substantial support from donors, governments, industry, and civil society. Advocacy efforts and media attention have created significant momentum in the battle against HIV/AIDS, and it is important that this momentum continues.