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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs