May 18th is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD), an annual observance that recognizes the contributions of thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals, scientists, and experts in the HIV/AIDS field who are committed to working together to find an HIV vaccine. This year, we acknowledge the participation of thousands of trial volunteers who have made the research possible, and we highlight recent progress that gives us hope that controlling this epidemic is within our reach.
Great strides have been made in the three decades since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first cases of what we know today as HIV/AIDS. What was considered a death sentence in the early 80s is now a manageable chronic condition for those living with HIV who have access to medications. However, about 30 million people globally have died as a result of HIV/AIDS, and 50,000 Americans still become infected every year. Despite the profound impact this disease continues to have in our communities, new developments in HIV prevention efforts inspire us with the hopeful expectation of an AIDS-free generation.
Recent advances in biomedical HIV prevention research have included microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Microbicides are gels or creams that both women and men can use topically to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. Other products, such as films, suppositories, vaginal rings or sponges, are also being developed to release the active ingredients in the body over time. The microbicides that have proven to be partially effective to date contain an anti-HIV drug known as Tenofovir. PrEP is an approach that involves the use of oral anti-HIV drugs taken by uninfected individuals to prevent HIV infection if exposed to the virus. One drug, known as Truvada, has been shown to be effective in some populations. Consequently, on May 10, an advisory committee recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve the use of Truvada as part of PrEP to prevent sexually transmitted HIV-1 infection. While both of these prevention strategies have varying degrees of protection against HIV, adding a safe, effective and durable vaccine to the combination of available prevention tools remains our best hope to ending the pandemic.
Scientists believe that it will take more than one approach to control the spread of HIV in the world. PrEP, microbicides and HIV vaccines, along with other proven prevention methods such as the regular use of condoms, are essential components of a comprehensive approach to global HIV prevention efforts. But, the success of the research in all these areas greatly depends on community participation and involvement as well as establishing trusting relationships within the communities most affected by HIV.
Collaboration among scientists, community leaders, and advocacy groups is essential for the fight against HIV/AIDS. In January 2012, the Be The Generation Bridge (BTG Bridge) program was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to help increase awareness and understanding of biomedical HIV prevention research, including HIV vaccines. To learn more about this research and how you can get involved, visit www.bethegeneration.nih.gov. To view community profile videos, visit www.youtube.com/bethegeneration.