July 11, 2012
More than 20,000 HIV researchers from around the world will meet in Washington this month amid renewed optimism about significantly curbing HIV's spread.
"We want to make sure we don't overpromise," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, he added, "I think we are at a turning point."
The growing focus is getting people with HIV into treatment early, before the immune system is weak, which improves their health and makes them less likely to infect others. Recent studies that have evaluated treatment-as-prevention have yielded "striking, sometimes breathtaking results," Fauci said. Combined with other protections, some studies of treatment-as-prevention show the risk of infection cut by 96 percent.
But getting such interventions into everyday life is "a daunting challenge," Fauci said, especially given the costs of treatment and need for lifelong adherence to the medications despite any competing poverty, social, and health issues.
Part of the 19th International AIDS Conference, July 22-27, will spotlight aggressive steps to fight the disease in the host city. Washington has a massive, ongoing effort to find the undiagnosed and rapidly get those infected into care. Testing is offered routinely in some hospitals; testing vans go into neighborhoods; and free tests are offered from a Department of Motor Vehicles office.
The United States is targeting hard-hit communities as part of its plan to cut HIV infections by 25 percent by 2015, said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health.
Most new US infections are among men who have sex with men, followed by heterosexual black women. While African Americans represent just 14 percent of the US population, they accounted for 44 percent of new infections in 2009, government data show. Twelve cities account for more than 40 percent of US AIDS cases, and many cases are concentrated in specific parts of these cities.