There have been huge strides in the world of HIV/AIDS with numerous media outlets reporting a breakthrough cure with a baby in rural Mississippi who was treated with antiretrovirals 30 hours after birth. By 18 months of age, the baby did not have any detectable viral load. Following this announcement was a report from the Visconti study indicating that 14 patients are now in ‘long-term virological remission. But, what does this mean in the context of ‘cures’?
What many media outlets fail to recognize in their headlines is the difference between a ‘functional cure’ and a ‘sterilizing cure’. The more appropriate word to use is ‘caution’, as cure may have provided the public with a false sense of finish in this ongoing fight. In my short time at the Commission, I’ve talked to various Directors from the many programs we have here, all sharing the same message; there’s still a huge need for continual HIV/AIDS funding, specifically with/for community based organizations. As some of the tactics centered on HIV prevention changes with the various populations, it is also important to tailor all interventions to meet community needs, while still keeping the bigger picture in mind. Though based on a small sample, much of my conversations around this news has left me under the impression that a lot of people believe that the fight is over. While scientists and those in the field of HIV/AIDS may understand the implications behind such advances, the word “cure” in this sense does not mean that the disease has been eliminated. The issue here is finding an appropriate way to report the story that generates awareness without overstating results, as there is still no vaccine available. If the public believes that there is a cure, funding to maintain research for HIV/AIDS could potentially dry up. And, as we all know, funding is a popularity contest.
The more successful organizations rely not only on outside sources, but also generate their own funds through different events and activities. Here at the Commission, we hold a huge gala that takes place every year to honor distinguished activists who have dedicated their lives to the cause and raise money for programs that serve individuals affected by HIV/AIDS. It’s important to remember that prevention education, as well as working towards a cure are both essential in fighting this epidemic. The fight is not over – we are constantly working to do more. Won’t you join us?
Written by Thao Bui