Looking Back at the Last Year in HIV Science, Activism and Policy
For each year that passes since 1981, when the human immunodeficiency virus infection/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was first clinically observed in the U.S., there have been new advances in science, policy, activism and hope. In this capacity, 2012 has been particularly bright. From the repeal of DADT, to the end of preexisting conditions with Obamacare and scientific advances, there is more hope than ever for the roughly 34.2 million people that were living with HIV in 2011. Some highlights from this incredibly exciting year follow:
One amazing stride forward in the treatment of HIV was the FDA approval of Stribild and Truvada, both HIV-1 Infection Drugs. They are single-dose medications approved for the treatment of HIV, and may significantly simplify the treatment protocol for sufferers of HIV, especially those who are "treatment-naïve," or who have never received treatment before. Over the past decade, co-formulated HIV medicines have simplified therapy for many patients and have become standard of care. The approval of Stribild and Truvada will provide physicians and their patients an effective new single tablet treatment option for individuals starting HIV therapy for the first time.
In July of this year, Timothy Brown, a.k.a. The Berlin patient, became the first person to be considered medically cured of HIV. In 2007, Brown was given a stem cell transplant as part of his treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). After 20 months without antiretroviral drug treatment, it was reported that HIV levels in Brown’s blood, bone marrow and bowel were below the limit of detection. The virus remained undetectable over three years after the first transplant. These findings, while still under scrutiny by medical researchers, have given hope to millions.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson shocked the world in 1991 when he announced he had HIV and abruptly retired from a hall of fame basketball career. Now, 21 years later, Magic Johnson is extremely active in HIV/AIDS education campaigns through the Magic Johnson Foundation and has sought to show that the risk of infection was not limited to traditionally high-risk groups like IV drug users, and using his life as an example of the fact that an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence. At age 53, Johnson is an activist, entrepreneur and the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
An organization of HIV/AIDS patient advocates in San Francisco, CA announced in November its intent to put a measure on next year’s ballot in San Francisco encouraging the city to negotiate for the lowest possible price for the prescription drugs that it purchases. The "Stop Runaway Drug Pricing" measure requires the collection of 9,703 valid signatures from San Francisco residents on a petition before it can go on the city’s ballot. The foundation notes that governments are the single-largest purchaser of pharmaceutical products and could help in November 2013. The measure would establish as city policy that San Francisco negotiate directly with the drug manufacturers and could be used as a model for other cities and governments to stop runaway drug pricing.
The 19th Annual International AIDS Conference to the United States was held in July 2012. It represents a significant victory for public health and human rights. The choice of Washington, D.C. as the site for the conference was the result of years of dedicated advocacy to end the nation’s misguided entry restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS that were based on fear and ignorance rather than science. Those 22-year-old travel bans on people with HIV were lifted by President Barack Obama on Nov. 5, after he noted that he was fulfilling a promise he made to gay advocates and acting to eliminate a restriction he said was "rooted in fear rather than fact."
Additionally this year, there was a new Viking-3 study that was designed to address a significant medical need for those patients who have advanced disease and have developed resistance to integrase inhibitors as well as multiple other antiretroviral agents.
On the social front, new HIV-positive online dating sites, including Adam4Adam and Volttage, emerged to break down the stigma and fear that HIV-positive people live with daily.
Politically in 2012, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that requires HIV screening and counseling became mandatory and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided an important status update about ongoing research studies. They are currently examining the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have ever had sex with other men since 1977 and are reviewing their policy.
These and other myriad events, both nationally, internationally and in our own hometowns herald the coming of new hope, acceptance and compassion in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the support of those living with the disease. Looking forward to 2013, it is easy to expect these accomplishments to be surpassed by the dedicated men and women who work tirelessly in this field scientifically, socially and politically.