News / Health

Patient, Researchers Look Back at Battle Against AIDS

Patient, Researchers Look Back at Battle Against AIDS
Patient, Researchers Look Back at Battle Against AIDS

Multimedia

Vidushi Sinha

Thirty years ago, medical experts reported the first cases of a mysterious and lethal new infection. The immune-system disease soon had a name, AIDS, and the virus that causes it, HIV, soon became a global scourge, killing more than two million people every year. But medical research has turned the tide against AIDS. Today, the virus is no longer a certain death sentence, and while it still kills more than a million people each year, a new generation of drugs has enabled more than 30 million people today to live with HIV.

Kathy Bennett has lived with an HIV infection for 21 years. Her outlook was bleak back in 1990, when she was first diagnosed with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and her doctor began treating her with drugs that proved too toxic. He stopped and told her to go home.

“I lay in the bed for four months waiting to die because he told me, 'I can’t treat anything,'” Bennett said.

But after she began treatments with a new class of drugs, Bennett's life changed, and now she is doing well and is a treatment counselor for AIDS patients.

“I don’t look at this virus, now that I know how to manage it, as a death sentence.  I am living a normal life.  I expect to be around a lot longer,” Bennett said.

Despite the availability of antiretroviral drug treatment, in 2009 about 2.6 million people were newly infected with HIV and 1.8 million people died of AIDS.

But 30 years ago, the medical community was full of pessimism.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, then a physician trying to treat patients suffering with this new disease, vividly remembers those days. He is now director of National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

“We had no idea what that infectious disease was and then in a very rapid succession many, many people started getting really very sick and dying. So it was a very disturbing, dark period of time where you didn’t even know what was the cause of it,” Fauci said.

Slowly, medical experts gained a better understanding of the infection. It became clear a weakened immune system caused  the condition. It also seemed to be sexually transmitted.

Dr. Robert Gallo is the co-discoverer of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus -- HIV.

“But it's not a moment - it's not a eureka - it's not like, 'Oh now I see that’s the cause of AIDS.' I tried to describe it to someone before. It's like peeling an onion -- you know you are getting step by step by step to get to the center which is, this is the cause,” Gallo said.

But there were still no drugs or vaccines to combat the virus and many experts were pessimistic. Then came a breakthrough in 1987, with the first approved drug, AZT.

"The virus could be dropped. You could measure it and see it go down. Even though the drug was toxic, the AIDS related signs and symptoms were disappearing.  WOW!," Gallo said.

Hopes faded when HIV became resistant to AZT.  But then, in the 1990s, effective combination drugs were developed, and they have become the most potent weapon in the effort to battle HIV.

“The 'cocktail,' as we call it, did dramatically turn around the lives of HIV infected individuals by giving them the opportunity to live essentially a normal life with good treatments,” Fauci said.

But AIDS patients say they continue to battle the social stigma attached to the disease.

“It was a lot of stigma then and it’s still lot of stigma now,” Bennett said.

Beyond treatment, the other major challenge is checking the spread of HIV.  The risk of transmission remains high among people under 30. And at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, the focus is on protecting infants and young children from infection. Dr. R.J. Simonds, the foundation's vice president, says progress has been made, especially in developing countries.  

“Mothers who were identified as being HIV-infected during their pregnancy could take a medication that could prevent their baby from becoming HIV infected,” Simonds said.

But a U.N. health report says the fight against AIDS is far from won, and the costs are unsustainable.

Next week at the United Nations, 30 heads of state will meet to review the considerable progress that's been made in combating AIDS and chart the future course of trying to treat it.

You May Like

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid