This has been a tremendous year in the fight against AIDS. One year ago, at the National Institutes of Health, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a historic speech calling for an “AIDS-free generation.” That speech and recent significant scientific advances have fostered hope that we can indeed bring an end to the disease. We stand at a deciding moment in our three-decades-long struggle.
In July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of an antiretroviral drug, Truvada, as part of a prevention strategy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for sexually active adults at high risk for HIV infection. In addition to this breakthrough, many areas of emerging research are causing optimism – there is hope for a cure and for vaccines to prevent infection. Also, there is progress with microbicides – products that can be used vaginally or rectally before sex by men and women to help prevent or reduce the risk for HIV infection.
This past summer, the FDA also approved the first in-home HIV test. Voluntary and confidential HIV testing has been a core component of the response to the epidemic. This new device allows individuals to take the first step toward achieving an AIDS-free generation by knowing their own status, so they can get appropriate treatment and avoid spreading the virus. Frequent screening is especially important if we are to end new infections among highly impacted populations such as gay men. This option is especially beneficial for individuals who are concerned about stigma and discrimination or who lack convenient access to a regular testing site.
The scientific advances of the past few years are due to the ongoing collaborative efforts among many individuals and organizations around the world that play a key role in HIV/AIDS research. FHI 360 has provided critical leadership in HIV prevention research, developing systems of care and community capacity building. As we enter this next phase, collaborative partnerships with communities are even more essential if we are to achieve wide-scale uptake of our scientific advances. Communities need to be a primary partner in the research to build trust in results, acceptance of interventions and knowledge to implement interventions successfully.
To achieve an “AIDS-free generation” also requires a recognition that HIV thrives among the most marginalized populations — the poor, sexual minorities, drug users and oppressed women and girls. Success depends on respecting the rights and dignity of those living with and most at risk for HIV infection. It also requires civil society and governments to join in tackling issues of discrimination, poverty and gender inequality. In the United States, implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans and meet the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
Today, as we recognize the millions of lives lost to the AIDS epidemic, honor the millions living with HIV worldwide and advance the science to end new infections and cure this disease, it is important that we recommit ourselves to strong community partnerships that will assure our success.