Are We About to Eliminate AIDS?

Clare Wilson, New Scientist: WHAT if we could rid the world of AIDS? The notion might sound like fantasy: HIV infection has no cure and no vaccine, after all. Yet there is a way to completely wipe it out — at least in theory. What’s more, it would take only existing medical technology to do the job.

Here’s how it works. If someone who is HIV positive takes antiretroviral-drug therapy they can live a long life and almost never pass on the virus, even through unprotected sex. So if everyone with HIV were on therapy, there would be little or no transmission. Once all these people had died, of whatever cause, the virus would be gone for good.

It’s a simple idea, but the obstacles to implementing it worldwide are enormous. Persuading everyone with HIV to start therapy purely for public health reasons could be ethically dubious. To identify everyone who is HIV positive would require such widespread testing that some may feel it breached their civil liberties. Then there is the question of who would fund such a massive undertaking.

Yet the idea of eliminating HIV is so appealing, and the benefit to humanity so huge, that scientists and policy-makers are seriously considering the concept, albeit on regional scales. In the next few months…

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