In the US, there have been over 700,000 deaths from HIV, a number that may soon be surpassed by the coronavirus pandemic in this country. Again, most of these have been black people. Based on the early reports of the AIDS epidemic, the assumption was that this was a white gay men’s disease.
With the intense homophobia of the 1980’s and 1990’s and stigma against the gay community, we were slow to recognize that HIV doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
It kills black, white, LatinX, Native American and Asian. It kills gay and straight and has killed far more heterosexuals than gay people. It kills male and female. It really doesn’t care about our labels and how our society is established.
Our failure to understand that early on was a missed opportunity until our communities were ravaged. Black LGBQ communities but also black heterosexual women were among the most heavily affected.
Fast forward to 2021, forty years, there have been phenomenal scientific and medical accomplishments. A disease that was highly fatal 40 years ago with no treatments is now a chronically manageable disease with over 25 approved drugs and more approved combinations. Many patients can be controlled on a single pill combination once a day.
We have a treatment now approved that is a once monthly injection and could possibly be dosed every two months.
More promising long-acting agents are coming down the pipeline. Broadly neutralizing antibodies are a promising type of treatment that have renewed our hope of curing this infection. There are also several medicines that can prevent a person from getting infected. In some countries, people with HIV infection can live nearly a normal lifespan.
Thanks to the scientists, clinicians, epidemiologists, public health experts and activists, it is a lot easier to live with HIV than it is to die from it. Forty years is a long time. A lot has happened. Make sure to get the best care if you have HIV and if you don’t, protect yourself. Condoms work but PrEP is effective also. Share the information you learn with family and friends who can use it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 40 years to get a cure. We are definitely working on it!