Hope as scientists see progress in global anti-Aids campaign

29Jul 2019
Kenneth Simbaya
The Guardian
Hope as scientists see progress in global anti-Aids campaign

AIDS experts have for the first time brought together new assessments from six countries around the world that have made impressive progress in fighting the HIV and AIDS pandemic, identifying the common contributors to success and providing a roadmap to ending the pandemic globally.

In a new report released last week in Mexico City at the International AIDS Society (IAS) 2019 Conference on HIV Science, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria demonstrate how dramatic reductions in HIV incidence and mortality have been accomplished in six very different settings around the world, listed as Thailand, Malawi, Uganda, Australia, England and the United States.

The 10th IAS Conference on HIV Science held from July 21st -24th 2019, monitored online by The Guardian, is the world’s most influential meeting on HIV research and its applications. This biennial conference presents the most critical advances in basic, clinical and operational research that moves science into policy and practice. Through its open and inclusive programme development, the meeting sets the gold standard for HIV research featuring highly diverse and cutting-edge studies.

The report provides a graph for each location, illustrating declining HIV rates and deaths, as well as policy decisions that drove advances against the epidemic. The report also maps out the future, showing how the required policy, structural and research advances can propel dramatic progress. “This report highlights the reality that progress toward ending HIV shouldn’t be limited by geography or demographics,” Greg Millett, Vice President and Director of Public Policy at amfAR, said. “It also highlights how much easier we can achieve our goal by continuing to invest in scientific research, as well as policies that promote human rights.”

amfAR is one of the world's leading non-profit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education and advocacy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly US$550 million in its programmes and has awarded more than 3,300 grants to research teams worldwide.

Common contributors to lowering HIV incidence and mortality across the six locations according to IAS 2019 include campaigns to encourage HIV testing particularly among groups that are most affected.

Others relate to free and easy access to treatment at the time of diagnosis with HIV, scale up of evidence-based HIV prevention, such as voluntary medical male circumcision, pre-exposure prophylaxis and harm reduction, concerted efforts to provide human rights-based services and social supports alongside programmes to fight stigma and discrimination.

“There is nothing easy about achieving epidemic control, but in Malawi, a country with few resources, we have found that innovation and early adoption of new guidelines is key to rapid scale up of treatment and prevention,” said Maureen Luba, Africa Regional Advocacy Advisor for AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), a US professional agency based in New York.. “With 91 per cent of people who are aware of their status on HIV treatment, Malawi is beginning to show progress on the way to ending the pandemic. But we can’t declare success too soon; we can’t step back now in Malawi or anywhere else.”

 Founded in 1995, AVAC is a non-profit organization that uses education, policy analysis, advocacy and a network of global collaborations to accelerate the ethical development and global delivery of AIDS vaccines, male circumcision, microbicides, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and other emerging HIV prevention options as part of a comprehensive response to the pandemic.

Chris Collins, President of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the report provides a new view to the issue, that ending the pandemic isn’t an insurmountable challenge. “It is a question of putting the evidence to work and scaling access, particularly for those most at risk. It won’t be easy anywhere, but it is possible everywhere.” 

“To eliminate HIV worldwide, we need not just great prevention tools but also strategic and impactful investments and policies,” said Adeeba Kamarulzaman, International AIDS Society President-Elect. “The report provides important new analysis of what has worked and what can be scaled to build on this success.”

Commenting on how Tanzania fairs in these applications, The Director of Preventive Services at the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender Elderly and Children, Dr Leonard Subi told The Guardian yesterday that Tanzania is doing great on all the common contributors to lowering HIV incidence and mortality.

“Testing services are readily available and accessible, including index testing. Access to ARV is good and viral suppression is well,” he said in response to a question on how Tanzania is fairing on common contributors to lowering HIV incidences and mortality.

Dr Subi noted that so far about 1,150,000 people are on anti-retroviral (ART) drugs, introduction of  Dilutegravir (DTG) based regimens down to lower facility, positive political will, along with community engagement and partnerships.

Key and Vulnerable Populations (KVPs) are among population groups that have heightened vulnerability to HIV infections, he stated.

IAS is the world’s largest association of HIV professionals, with members in more than 170 countries. IAS advocates and drives urgent action to reduce the impact of HIV,  organizing the world’s most prestigious HIV conferences, including the International AIDS Conference, the IAS Conference on HIV Science, and the HIV Research for Prevention Conference.