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AIDS Deaths Down, HIV Vaccine in Progress
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26 Jul 2017 02:24 PM EST

-by Chanel Adams, Staff Writer; Image: Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding from cultured lymphocyte (Image Source: CDC / Public Domain)

There is some good news about AIDS and HIV.

The world has been in a fight against the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome since the early 80s. Over the past 40 years, it has wiped out 35 million lives.

Thankfully, AIDS deaths are on the decrease as more people gain access to treatment. There are plenty of setbacks, especially with the drug epidemic and Trump's GOP healthcare bill.

The number of dollars that HIV treatment costs could increase in the next five years if no action is taken. Costs for HIV treatment could rise to $26.2 billion in 2020, according to the United Nations AIDS agency. There are 19.5 million people on anti-retroviral drugs used to suppress the HIV virus. This figure is up from 17.1 million in 2015, which represents 53 percent of those infected.

The number of AIDS-related deaths this year is 1 million. The figure is down from 1.9 million in 2005, a 47 percent decrease. In addition, there were 1.8 million reported HIV infections from last year. That figure is down 16 percent since 2010. The reason for the new infections is that people ages 15 to 24 are behind the rest of the population when it comes to education, testing, treatment, and prevention. Men are less likely to know about their HIV status or to start treatment in comparison to women.

The International AIDS Society (IAS) asked Donald Trump to increase funding for AIDS research. The organization warned that his spending cuts (and his healthcare bill) could cause more deaths. IAS president Linda-Gail Bekker spoke out at the group's conference in Paris. She talked about Trump's "draconian" cuts, saying that they would result in "catastrophe," according to Newsweek.

"If we do not actively move forward on the HIV response, then we are sliding back. Sliding back means sick patients, lost lives, ongoing transmission and infected children — a world that we do not want to go back to,” Bekker said.

Trump's budget cuts include cuts to healthcare programs that previously contributed to research against HIV and AIDS along with other major medical research. The U.S. contributed 66.4 percent of funding into the global fund for HIV research in 2015, according to the Newsweek report. The total global funding for HIV research declined 8 percent between 2014 and 2015, before Trump took office.

There is promising news in HIV treatment. Developing a vaccine to stop the spread of HIV has been proven difficult. The virus is more genetically diverse than the flu. It can be hard to develop a vaccination that would stop the different HIV subtypes from circulating. But, scientists may be closer to creating a vaccine that could tackle HIV's genetic diversity simultaneously and prevent the virus from spreading.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Johnson & Johnson at the International AIDS Society conference in Paris on Monday, July 24, announced a clinical trial of a vaccine called the "A26-env mosaic vaccine." It readies the body to respond with several defense mechanisms that would hopefully fend off the different variations of HIV.

Don't get too excited yet. It's only in the early phases of human testing. The vaccine could still fail to prevent spreading among people. It's not clear if the mosaic vaccine could protect people from HIV. Many studies have revealed that it works in animals and it's safe for humans, but there's not much focused on efficacy.

Public health officials have been creating campaigns about HIV/AIDS prevention. They remind people to practice safe sex with condoms, get regularly tested, and seek HIV treatment when diagnosed. Researchers previously discovered a pill that could prevent HIV.

"A safe and effective HIV vaccine would be a powerful tool to reduce new HIV infections worldwide and help bring about a durable end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "By exploring multiple promising avenues of vaccine development research, we expand our opportunities to achieve these goals."

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