A top U.S. health official is calling for greater domestic and international partnerships in the fight against HIV-AIDS. Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke at the AIDS Vaccine 2003 Conference in New York.
The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says no one knows when an AIDS vaccine will be found. "Well, I'm not going to give you a year. Absolutely. Five, ten, seven, eight, we don't know. When we get there we get there," said Dr. Fauci, who describes the search for an AIDS vaccine as a bumpy road.
He says the immune system does not react to HIV, the AIDS virus, the way it does to smallpox or polio. For example, he says 70 to 90 percent of the people who were infected with smallpox were able to rid themselves of the virus. He says more than 90 percent of the people infected with polio have no detrimental consequences in the long run. But HIV is different. "What HIV is telling us, whatever the reason, is that the immune system together with the special properties of the virus is not able to do this. So this is a very significant scientific problem," he explained.
Dr. Fauci is proposing a new initiative within the federal government called PAVE, Partnership for AIDS Vaccine. It calls for greater sharing of information and harmony among the agencies most concerned about AIDS, namely the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the Defense Department.
"The Department of Defense has been fundamentally involved in developing a vaccine that was relevant to the military situation," said Dr. Fauci. "Why not join in a partnership with them so that even things that were done fundamentally for force protection, which are the words the military uses, let's make sure when we do have [vaccine] trials that capability is able to be translated to what the rest of the civilian population are doing."
He pointed out that similar partnerships are needed internationally among governments, private industry and non-governmental organizations.
Current estimates say 44 million people are infected with HIV. Dr. Fauci says no matter what estimates you look at, it's going to get much, much worse. A vaccine, he says, is critical for the effective control of HIV infection.