This year marks the 25th anniversary of the deadly HIV/AIDS virus that initially took the lives of five homosexual men in Los Angeles in 1981. Since then, some 25 million people around the world have died, and 40 million more are infected.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top researcher in infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, DC, is an expert on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Dr. Fauci said he could not have imagined that the disease would become so widespread. But when it became clear the virus was spreading through heterosexual contact to the developing world, he realized the boundaries were “unlimited.”
Dr. Fauci explains that, although some effective therapies such as anti-viral drugs have been developed, HIV/AIDS is never completely eliminated from the body. So it is unlikely to be eradicated completely. Dr. Fauci says the eventual development of a vaccine to protect people against HIV/AIDS is “problematic” because of the way the disease compromises the immune system itself. Dr. Fauci notes that recent data show circumcision is “quite impressive” in decreasing the incidence of infection, and he expects it to take its place besides other preventative measures, such as condom use and the elimination of needle exchange among drug users.
In Africa, where two-thirds of the people afflicted with HIV/AIDS live, Dr. Fauci says political leadership is key to combating the disease. Also essential is the empowerment of women so they can protect themselves against infection. In the developed world, the transmission of AIDS from mother to infant has been reduced to about 1%, but in Africa, Dr. Fauci says, the rates are 25 to 30%. However, he notes that President Bush’s Emergency Fund for AIDS relief has had a “major impact” on both the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Among those countries that have done the most to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS are Uganda, Senegal, and Thailand, Dr. Fauci says.
Dr. Fauci suggests that the research on HIV/AIDS can help prepare for the battle against a new deadly virus - Avian (or bird) flu, which has spread from Asia across Europe and into parts of Africa. But he says it is impossible to predict the odds of a strain of the bird flu virus mutating and causing a human pandemic. However, he says the world must prepare for a worst-case scenario. Dr. Fauci suggests that the countries of the developing world, where there is the greatest “intermingling of humans and chickens,” may pose the greatest risks for eventual human-to-human transmission.
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