A cure of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis has happened for the first time in the history of the virus but researchers have failed to replicate that cure because of the nature of the case involved. At one time, HIV was viewed as a death sentence keeping the world on edge, but after decades and millions of dollars worth of research, a patient who has been cured exists and treatment for the virus may even to provide a cure for the Ebola epidemic.
The HIV pandemic remains prevalent in the U.S. and the world. In 2012, about 2.3 million new diagnoses were made worldwide adding to the 35.3 million living HIV positive (not including untested persons). With tens of thousands continuing to live with the virus each year in the US, transmission opportunities increase exponentially. Additionally, each year, approximately 50,000 people are diagnosed HIV positive.
The first HIV generation has hit retirement age, and, while they have gotten used to a medication regimen, it is not as easy to get used to the daunting reality of living with HIV. Many have been plagued with survivor’s guilt. They count their blessings to wake up each day, but every survivor risks waking up to the loss of a HIV positive friend.
Numerous programs have been implemented to educate, prevent, track, treat, and aid in an ongoing effort to minimize transmission. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) allocates millions to high-impact prevention. Prevention requires education and starting early is the key. Informative and preventative measures begin as early as high school with health education and condom distribution. College campuses host health fairs each semester granting students free HIV testing.
Testing positive for HIV does not have to be the end of a person’s life but the beginning of a different stage. When it comes to treatment and aid, anti-HIV drugs are provided to prolong life expectancy and alleviate virus symptoms. Treatments in the current era provide much better prospects for patients to live long and relatively healthy lives.
Currently, a HIV drug is being used in rural Africa to treat Ebola. Using Lamivudine, which treats both hepatitis B and HIV, a doctor treated fifteen young women, two of whom have died. Four of those young women responded well and are expected to be released. Top U.S. scientists understand the logic behind the doctor’s method. They concur that Ebola and HIV cells are similar but insist further testing is necessary.
Continued treatment is also necessary. In the United States, anti-HIV drugs are plentiful but a significant number of survivors who have previously taken the anti-HIV drugs are discontinuing care. The medicines are designed to suppress the virus and preserve the immune system from destruction. Discontinuing the use of these drugs can cause negative reactions to the extent to worsening the virus. This points to a trend in survivors believing that when they have achieved a healthy condition that they no longer need to continue treatment. This is not the case.
Any persons resisting treatment may reconsider after hearing that Timothy Ray Brown is cured of HIV. When Brown was living 11 years with the virus and taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), he was diagnosed with acute myeloid Leukemia. After failed chemotherapy, he underwent two bone marrow transplants, one of which had a rare genetic mutation. During his recovery, doctors found only traces of the non-replicable viral genetic material. While this HIV cure is likely a function of the unique situation surrounding his Leukemia, and one which doctors have failed to replicate, it does represent progress in treatments and provides a lot of new information for study.
The radiation Brown had undergone killed the cancerous cells and stem cells in his bone marrow. With the bone marrow transplant came new healthy cells. As a result, his HIV levels decreased. Although it can be said that his situation is unique and non-applicable HIV survivors who are not living with cancer, his case incites further research. This case opens doors to possibilities as it begs questions needing answers. In the least, it provides hope, encouragement even, to keep with treatment.
Treatment options may be affected, however, now that Congress is considering cutting the budget intended to fight the AIDS pandemic. President Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), one of the most effective government programs, and Global Fund, used to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis hang in the balance. PEPFAR provides funds for testing, treatment, and more. The Global Fund relies on contributions from donor countries, contributions that fell short this year.
Although Congress is considering allocating funds to just one program, the loss of a single program could significantly affect AIDS relief. This also leaves the retired HIV generation at risk. This deficit would fail to cover the funding necessary to attempt to replicate and validate studies to achieve the HIV cure that Timothy Ray Brown experienced and place many lives in jeopardy.
By Charice Long