Making Strides in HIV Research

Earlier this week, we commemorated World AIDS Day, a time to examine the progress that the global community has made against the HIV/AIDS global pandemic. While the statistics remain grim—more than 25 million deaths and 33 million people infected worldwide —there are glimmers of hope.

Through the work of dedicated scientists, clinicians, and volunteers, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made significant strides in HIV prevention research. Earlier this year, NIH announced that an investigational microbicide was safe and modestly effective in a clinical trial conducted in Africa and the United States. This was the first demonstration that a microbicide —a gel, foam or cream applied topically in the vagina or rectum—could potentially prevent sexual transmission of HIV. This year we also began to evaluate antiviral drug-based microbicides. Clearly a safe and effective microbicide could provide women worldwide a means of protecting themselves against HIV infection.

In September, the U.S. federal government announced that an experimental vaccine combination regimen was safe and modestly effective in preventing HIV infection in a clinical trial conducted in Thailand. While this trial did not result in a licensable product, it has provided possible hints on how to make a truly safe and effective vaccine that could prevent HIV acquisition. In 2010, we will likely to get the first study results on the ability of approved antiviral medicines to prevent HIV transmission —a research approach know as pre-exposure prophylaxis.

While these results are incremental steps, there are proven HIV prevention strategies that can be globally implemented now, including HIV testing and counseling, syringe and needle exchange, correct and consistent condom use, and medically supervised adult and infant male circumcision. Based on the nature of the local epidemic, these proven methods of prevention could be combined and implemented.

Moving forward, prevention research and implementation require strong leadership at all levels of government and the involvement of civil society. There needs to be a renewed commitment to the implementation of prevention strategies that have been rigorously shown to be effective, so that we can stem the growth of the HIV epidemic worldwide.

On each World AIDS Day, we recognize those groups and individuals who have joined together to fight against HIV/AIDS, and reaffirm our commitment to discovering and developing the tools needed to stop one of the deadliest global killers of our time.

Each of us can do our part by getting tested for HIV, fighting stigma, and practicing safe sex.

Everyone can make a difference.