The following is a statement from HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) Chair Kathleen Squires, MD:
Thirty years ago this month, the first alarming reports of a new and deadly infection were published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, we have seen many advances in our knowledge of what we now know to be HIV/AIDS, how to treat it, and how to prevent its spread. Today, we know that if patients are diagnosed early and receive effective medical care and medication, HIV disease is highly treatable as opposed to being a death sentence.
Despite this progress, our advances in studying this virus remain far ahead of our gains in beating this disease on the ground. There are far too many people who need HIV treatment who do not have access to it, and many are diagnosed too late to benefit from treatment. About half of those living HIV in the United States who know they are infected and need medication are not receiving it regularly. A third of people diagnosed with HIV are not receiving ongoing medical care. More than 8,000 low-income and uninsured people across the country are on waiting lists for medication through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Globally, only 35 percent of people in developing countries who need it are receiving treatment according to the World Health Organizations treatment guidelines, which still call for initiating treatment later than the U.S. standard.
Last month, the results of a major study from the National Institutes of Health convincingly showed that early HIV diagnosis, followed by appropriate care and treatment, can save lives and reduce the spread of the disease. Researchers found that HIV-infected patients treated with antiretroviral drugs while their immune systems were still healthy were 96 percent less likely to pass the infection to their uninfected partners.
We must do more, as a country and as part of the world community, to ensure that scientific advances like these are put into widespread practice. Adequate federal funding for HIV prevention, testing, care, and research is critical as demand for HIV care continues to grow. More than 50,000 new cases occur annually in the United States, and there were 2.6 million new infections around the world in 2009. HIV clinics across the country that provide care to the uninsured have seen patient increases of nearly 60 percent during the past several years. Many clinics are taking drastic steps, from cutting hours to reducing laboratory monitoring, just to keep their doors open.
As HIV medical professionals, it is heartening to see how much has been learned about this disease during the past 30 years. The continuing challenge is translating this science into practice so we can finally end this pandemic through earlier diagnosis of HIV infection and ensuring that everyone has access to the HIV care and treatment they need.