On World AIDS Day 2018, Is there a cure for HIV in sight?

On December 1, 2018, we celebrate the 30th World AIDS Day. For the last 3 decades, this day has been one of reflection and celebration. We celebrate the achievements in the medical management of this disease and celebrate the lives of those affected but we also reflect on how far we have come and commit to new strategies for treating and preventing the disease. Ultimately, the goal is for a cure.

At the first World AIDS Day, we only had one drug for treating HIV, which was AZT and it was not a particularly good drug. It had numerous toxicities at the doses used and only had a moderate effect on suppressing the virus. Thirty years later, over thirty-five drugs have been approved for use against HIV. Quite a few of these drugs are no longer used because there are stronger and safer drugs that perform better that we can combine to suppress the HIV virus and restore people’s immune system.

We have also learned a tremendous amount about how this virus causes disease and how it affects all systems of the body. We also have some good medicines that can protect an individual from getting infected. Very importantly, we have made treatment available to the millions of people in Africa, South, and South-East Asia and Latin America who quite simply would have died without programs like PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) that continue to provide them with free treatment. I am very thankful to have worked with PEPFAR and had an opportunity to contribute my experience and knowledge to this program by improving clinical care and building infrastructure for research in Africa.

Now, as a result of decades of intensive research, both in laboratories and in clinics, a young person being infected with HIV can potentially live almost a normal lifespan. So with all these good things happening, is it still important for us to find a cure for HIV infection? As good as the medicines are, they do not cure HIV and as it stands now, people must take these medications their entire lives. So one thing that must be understood is