Finding a cure for HIV-AIDS has been one of modern medicine's greatest endeavors. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, development of an effective vaccine will be necessary to achieve a durable end to the disease's spread.
Despite massive strides in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection, stamping out the pandemic seems to be a daunting task. In a recent commentary by Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), he said that ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic without a vaccine is unlikely.
Currently, antiretroviral therapy is being used both to improve the health of those living with HIV and prevents viral transmission to HIV-negative sexual partners. Strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) were also successful in preventing the spread among people at high risk for infection. However, these aren't enough to stem the spread of the virus from a practical point of view.
Globally, more than 17 million people living with HIV are not receiving antiretroviral therapy. This is compounded by the continual spread of the virus, an estimated 1.8 million worldwide in last year alone.
According to Dr. Fauci, even a modestly effective HIV vaccine could substantially slow the spread of HIV-AIDS if deployed alongside current treatment and prevention efforts. However, because the virus attacks the immune system itself, the vaccine cannot be as effective compared with other vaccines for diseases such as yellow fever and polio. Nevertheless, deployment of such a vaccine can curb the pandemic.
Additionally, achieving the primary goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) could further slow the spread of the disease and even save as many as 200,000 lives. Their goals are for 90 percent of HIV-positive individuals to know their diagnosis, and for 80 percent of those patients to achieve virologic suppression via antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.
While an HIV-AIDS diagnosis is definitely a life-changing event, it doesn't have to be a death sentence. Hopefully, continued research brings scientists closer to a cure and finally put an end to the scourge of the disease.