The End of HIV/AIDS

In June 1981, researchers began to note evidence of an unidentified virus in previously and otherwise healthy individuals. The number of reported cases exploded over the next 24 months in population groups including hemophiliacs, homosexual men, heterosexual intravenous drug users and Haitian immigrants to the United States. The United States Centers for Disease Control named the virus Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome – AIDS. As the number of reported AIDS cases grew significantly, teams based at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the United States National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C. independently worked to identify the cause. The two teams found the cause almost simultaneously in 1983 – a virus that slowly and progressively erodes the immune system and then allows opportunistic infections and cancers to take hold, known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. The costs of HIV/AIDS could not be higher. Since 1981, more than 25 million men, women and children have died as a result of complications due to AIDS, and conservative estimates project that another 33 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS. 97% of those currently living with HIV/AIDS – 32 million people – reside in low and middle income countries, and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Entire generations and populations are being wiped out by a virus spread in myriad ways, the most insidious of which being from mother to child. Studies show that many countries whose populations suffer the most from HIV/AIDS also face higher risks of other infectious diseases, food insecurity and other serious problems. Over two decades, HIV/AIDS became a death sentence – for individuals, for households, for families, for communities, for countries, for regions and for generations. 20 years after the original discovery of HIV/AIDS, United States President George W. Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to help the people of Africa – the largest commitment by any nation in history to combat a single disease. PEPFAR’s original stated goal was to provide drug-based treatment to 2 million people, prevent 7 million new infections, and provide support and care to 10 million people by 2010. Few could have imagined that the program’s success would be much larger. At its core, PEPFAR utilizes agreements between governmental entities and private industry to provide cutting-edge prevention, treatment, and care to those susceptible to and suffering from HIV/AIDS. Medical research and rapid innovation have allowed widespread usage of both generic and name-brand drugs and treatment plans, and partnerships with pharmaceutical companies around the world have created thriving markets for drugs and treatment plans that had previously been prohibitively expensive. Drugs like zidovudine, emtricitabine, nevirapine and others developed by companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Hoffmann-La Roche, Pfizer, Merck, Abbott Laboratories and others have saved millions of lives. In 2013, 30 years after the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, the tide is finally turning. PEPFAR has ensured treatment for more than 9 million people and is currently supporting treatment for more than 5 million people around the world. New HIV infections have declined almost 25% and AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 20%. Prices for treatment plans have declined almost 70%. This year, the one millionth baby was born HIV-free due directly to PEPFAR’s intervention. Researchers have also created and tested the first functional cure for HIV. Governments and pharmaceutical companies around the world are successfully reversing the death sentence of HIV/AIDS, and for the first time, the fight against this disease appears to be winnable.