What we’re reading: Four decades of HIV have wrought remarkable change, continuing loss, remaining challenges

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The Science Speaks editorial staff (me) took some time off to attend to some long overdue family business in Michigan, thanks to an uptick in vaccine uptake and access there, a place now emerging from a recent discouraging surge of transmissions. Enjoying the benefits the remarkable accomplishments of science and public health have given us offered a chance to catch up on some essential reading as the month marking the 40th anniversary of the first reports of AIDS comes to a close. Here is a sampling, taking us on a tour of lessons learned, progress gained, survival amid stigma and overwhelming loss, and the gains yet to be realized in four decades of responses to HIV.

Applying the Lessons of HIV and COVID-19 to Build a Healthier World -The year that would close the fourth decade of recognition of and responses to HIV opened with unprecedented ambition, Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, chair of the HIV Medicine Association (which, with IDSA, produces this blog) writes, with a federal strategy and commitment to using science to end transmissions of the virus in America. Instead the new pandemic of COVID-19 disrupted access to essential health services that included access to the testing, treatment and prevention measures critical to preventing HIV infection and illness. While discouraging,” Dr. Gandhi writes, “events since the emergence of COVID-19 and developments since the first reports of what we now know as AIDS, have shown us what we still can do to end HIV as an epidemic in America. If we apply those lessons, we also can make our country better prepared for the next pathogen of pandemic potential.”

An HIV Testing Conversation with PACHA’s Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos – Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and of the Ending the HIV Epidemic working group for the HIV Medicine Association, and soon (Friday) to be Dean of the Duke University School of Nursing, discusses why testing is one of the four pillars of the federal initiative to end HIV as an epidemic, and how to realize its greatest potential by extending its reach in this HIV.gov interview.

I Am a Long-term Survivor of HIV – Antigone Dempsey, MEd., of HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau Division of Policy and Data tells some of her own story here, as a long-term survivor diagnosed with HIV in her early 20s, whose work in evidence-based responses to the virus is informed by her own experiences with loss, stigma, and advances that have restored hope. “It’s complex,” she writes. “I am grateful for surviving, and even thriving, with a family and career I never thought possible; but also, I feel deep grief for those who did not survive this.” Scientific findings that people whose virus is suppressed by treatment do not transmit the virus to others through sex were critical to lifting the stigma she had carried, she writes.

Can HIV Treatment Prevent All Transmission of the Virus?– Here health journalist Heather Boerner writes about how those findings came to be, with in-depth interviews with HPTN-052 Principal Investigator Dr. Mike Cohen and others, and a look at questions yet to be answered including the extent to which antiretroviral treatment prevents transmission via shared drug injection equipment.

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