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World AIDS Day 2016: A Statement from COL Nelson Michael

November 30, 2016

2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the first reports of the mysterious illness that came to be called AIDS. 

In the past 35 years, researchers, clinicians and advocates have made hard-won progress against the disease that so confounded the medical community in 1981. Improved understanding of the virus and its mechanisms within the body has yielded better prevention efforts and life-extending therapies.

But progress can breed complacency. With increases in the quality of life of some of those living with HIV/AIDS, urgency to eradicate it has waned. Since 2010 there have been no declines in new HIV infections among adults, and 2.1 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2015. More than 23,000 people with HIV/AIDS continue to die every week, largely in the developing world. Have we become inured to this staggering loss of human life?

This World AIDS Day, progress in prevention, research developments and ideas for new innovations have reinvigorated the field and renewed hope that an end to this epidemic is achievable. We will need an array of prevention tools—many of which are available today—to overcome HIV. An effective vaccine remains a critical component of any long-term strategy.

The HVTN702 trial that began in South Africa around World AIDS Day is the first efficacy trial for an HIV vaccine in seven years. This study builds on the success of the Army-led RV144 HIV vaccine trial in Thailand, which was the first and only study to show efficacy. If this new HVTN702 study proves effective, it would be a historic event in HIV research and has potential to bring us closer to a public health tool to prevent infection.

MHRP, alongside many collaborators, also continues to pursue a functional cure for HIV. Last month, a team published results of a promising preclinical study of a combination therapeutic vaccine approach. The study used a special drug to awaken the virus, which made it easier for the novel vaccine to detect and combat it. This research, along with other studies in the field, is providing options for cure, which, when combined, may be able to impact the disease in those living with HIV.

I am confident that working together—governments, academic institutions, not for profit groups, private industry, scientists, clinicians, advocates, clinical trial volunteers, and communities— we can maintain this momentum in preventing and treating HIV infection, and continue to make discoveries and develop novel technologies to help move us closer to an AIDS free generation.

Let us rededicate ourselves today to winning this fight.