2013 in Retrospect: Impressive gains in fight against HIV/AIDS

 

As 2013 comes to an end, it is time to pause and reflect on major developments that made headlines regarding the scourge of HIV/AIDS that has been ravaging humankind for the past three decades.

A lot of progress has been made in the past decade in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Today, we celebrate the extraordinary progress made in curtailing new HIV infections and providing life-saving care and treatment to those who are living with the virus.

Millions of people are now on antiretroviral therapy (ART), a drug regimen that enables them to lead normal lives, thereby enabling them to provide for themselves, their families, and communities as well as contributing to development of their respective economies.

AIDS-related deaths are declining worldwide.

A lot has happened during the course of 2013. If we are to press the rewind button – it would take us back when the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July approved a widely acclaimed AIDS drug called Truvada as the first pill to prevent the transmission of HIV – the virus that causes AIDS.

Truvada is used in combination with other drugs to treat patients with HIV infection. The drug can be prescribed to healthy patients who are at high risk, such as people whose partners live with HIV/AIDS and non-monogamous gay and bisexual men.

Gilead Sciences Inc. has marketed Truvada since 2004, as a treatment for people who are already infected with the virus. But starting in 2010, studies showed that the drug could actually prevent people from contracting HIV when used as a precautionary measure.

A three-year study found that a daily dose of the medicine cuts the risk of infection in healthy gay and bisexual men by 42 percent, when accompanied by condoms and counselling.

Last year another study found that Truvada reduced infection by 75 percent in heterosexual couples in which one partner was infected with HIV and the other was not.

Because Truvada is on the market to manage HIV, some doctors already prescribe it as a preventive measure and FDA’s approval will allow Gilead Sciences to formally market the drug for that use, which could dramatically increase prescribing.

It does not come cheap – it costs around US$13 000 a year and it is not clear health insurers will pay for it.

And there are worries that people taking the pill might end up relaxing safe-sex precautions but most of the health officials especially in America where the drug is being sold hope the medication will help reduce the number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

FDA also approved the OraQuick/OraSure. The HIV home-testing kit holds promise, as another way to combat the spread of HIV.

The testing kit is said to be efficient and convenient for the user, however, there is a big concern. A positive reading without proper counselling is a recipe for potential calamity, which might lead to suicide and other psychological ailments.

Just recently, a new development in the human battle against the HIV/AIDS and which had everyone on the edge of their seats is the huge step in the right direction in search for an AIDS cure.

After acquiring necessary funding, scientists from five leading universities in Great Britain recently announced plans to start a new clinical trial in 2014 to test a possible cure for HIV.

In the trial, one group of patients will be administered a short course of Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors (HDAC) and an HIV vaccine alongside ART, while the other group will get ART with placebos.

HDAC Inhibitors are used for cancer treatment and they have been shown to reactivate dormant HIV in the laboratory. As part of the trial, the research team is developing an improved method for detecting latency, which has been one of the difficulties in measuring the success of therapeutic approaches.

Trials will begin by testing out the new pharmaceuticals on a group of 50 patients, who are in early stages of HIV infection. Scientists have warned, however, that they won't know the true extent of the vaccine's effectiveness until 2017.

Another story that made local headlines, which had women and gender activists in Namibia up in arms were the appeals to the government by traditional leaders to legalise polygamy, which they claim will help prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Traditional leaders believe that this might be the solution to societal evils currently bedevilling the Namibian nation, such as passion killing and baby dumping and the transmission of HIV and AIDS.

Chief Mathias Walaula of Ombadja Traditional Authority in Omusati Region was quoted in the local media as saying that polygamous customary marriages should be legalised in Namibia, not only because it is African tradition but also because it would solve most social evils currently devastating the country, what he described as a calamity.

However, critics have pointed out that polygamy has no place in the HIV/AIDS era and does not resonate with gender equality as women in such marriages don't have access to sufficient financial resources; face greater health risks and have difficulty inheriting property in case their husbands die.

They have also argued that children from such unions at times do not get equal educational opportunities as the preferred wife manipulates such households, not to mention other conflicts.

Although polygamous marriages are not new in Namibia and the world at large, the practice still raises eyebrows ‑ especially in this day and age when the HIV and AIDS pandemic is still among the world’s deadliest illnesses.

People who are against having more than one sexual partner argue that polygamous marriages do not accord equal rights to men and women because the women in such marriages are not allowed to see other men.

However, who can confidently say that these women keep their vows to be faithful to their husbands because they too have needs that cannot be fulfilled with a one-off visit.

Opponents of polygamy further argue that if a man has been allowed to take more than one wife, what will stop him from seeking more even after he has three or four? It only shows that such a man cannot be satisfied.

I wish you all happy holidays; let’s try to do the right things. no drinking and driving, no fighting, less alcohol, no suicides, no passion killings, no domestic violence, practice safe sex and 'zero grazing' (one partner only).

 

Until 2014….

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