The future of AIDS: Leading experts reflect on progress and challenges in defeating AIDS

Nisa PatelArticle, Blog

World AIDS Day 2016 brings with it an opportunity for communities worldwide to reflect on the progress, to acknowledge challenges, to develop strategies and to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This year’s theme ‘Leadership. Commitment. Impact.’, highlights the importance of taking responsibility across private and public sectors to facilitate coordinated efforts to solve the issues at hand. As the year draws to a close, it is imperative to continue the momentum and accelerate the fight to end HIV/AIDS.

Following the International AIDS Conference 2016 held earlier this year, GBCHealth asked four leading experts on HIV/AIDS to share their perspectives on how to best address the challenges to ending this epidemic. They spoke about the importance of increased investment and preventative measures to fight new HIV infections; about the role of the private sector and the importance of continued collaboration; and above all, about the urgency of providing marginalized populations with the necessary access to prevention, treatment and care.

Read excerpts from the series below and follow the conversation on Twitter through #GBCtalksHIV. To read the full series, please visit the GBCHealth website.

On the successes of prevention and where it still has to go:

Kelly Curran, Director for HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases, Jhpiego: “The scale up of prevention, care and treatment services over the past 15 years has been nothing short of remarkable… [But] because of the ‘youth bulge,’ the large cohort of young people now reaching sexual maturity in the highest prevalence countries, the population at risk of HIV is now much larger than it was at the beginning of the epidemic, so even as new infection rates have declined, a larger population is at risk.”

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS: “The world needs to take urgent and immediate action to close the prevention gap. We can start with key populations—in 2014, key populations, including gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, transgender people, people who inject drugs and prisoners, accounted for 35 percent of new HIV infections globally… The issue is access—if people do not feel safe or have the means to access combination HIV prevention services we will not end this epidemic.”

On private sector involvement and the importance of partnerships:

Bill Roedy, Former President (ret.), MTV Networks International; Board Director and Co-Founder, GBCHealth: “Corporations have broadened the meaning of social responsibility, creating company-specific programs and initiatives that result in evidence-based impact for the most vulnerable populations… But the private sector must not waver in its efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, and the root causes that continue to fuel this epidemic.”

MS: “The private sector is much more than a key donor to the response. The private sector brings innovation, efficiency, energy and know-how. We will not end the AIDS epidemic without them. “

KC: “Partnerships are critical going forward…activists and advocates, scientists and donors, policymakers, and NGOs, frontline healthcare workers and people living with the virus all working together to control the epidemic. We never would have gotten this far without working together… To finish the job, we need to expand our partnership by encouraging even more engagement from the private sector; not just internationally but in the most highly affected countries.”

On the need for continued investment in eliminating HIV/AIDS:

Ambassador-at-Large Deborah L. Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy: “Since 2003, the U.S. government has invested $70 billion in bilateral HIV/AIDS programs, the Global Fund, and tuberculosis programs, including more than $55 billion under President Obama. As a result of these investments and the efforts and investments of many other partners, today, 17 million people are on lifesaving treatment and new HIV infections are down to 2.1 million each year. Since PEPFAR’s creation, global AIDS-related deaths have fallen 43 percent. Working together, we have made great gains, but our work is far from finished.”

MS: “The incredible expansion of access to antiretroviral medicines in recent years must go down as one of the biggest achievements in responding to HIV. Going from 770,000 people with access in 2000 to 17 million today is an enormous achievement and has saved millions of lives. This willingness to expand access to testing and treatment services will need to continue if we are to reach the 20 million people still in need of treatment for HIV.”

KC: “We have all these tools, we know how to use them, but unfortunately at present there simply aren’t enough domestic or global resources to provide all 37 million people living with HIV with treatment, and to provide effective primary prevention services to those at risk… We also need to preserve enough resources for research and development—particularly in vaccines and finding a cure–so that we can really end AIDS once and for all.”

On serving marginalized populations:

MS: “We have to address the root causes of such an injustice, and that means ending gender-based violence, gender inequity, harmful gender norms, stigma and discrimination. Key populations, including gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and their clients, people who inject drugs and prisoners, are many times more vulnerable to HIV infection than the general population; yet continue to be stigmatized, marginalized and unable to access HIV programs. Reaching these populations and ensuring they have safe access to the HIV prevention and treatment services they need will be pivotal to ending the AIDS epidemic.”

DB: “The theme of AIDS 2016 spoke to [the] commitment, ‘Access Equity Rights Now.’ Adolescent girls and young women face social and structural drivers that place them at disproportionately higher risk for HIV infection. And we have not made nearly enough progress in ensuring respect for all persons [and] zero discrimination. Far too many people at risk for HIV or in need of treatment are still being pushed into the shadows. AIDS 2016 showed us that an AIDS-free generation is truly within our reach, but we will not get there automatically or easily, and our work is far from done.”

Nisa PatelThe future of AIDS: Leading experts reflect on progress and challenges in defeating AIDS