WASHINGTON - This year's World AIDS Day focuses on how to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The United Nations predicts that if prevention and treatment services are scaled up, the epidemic will no longer be a global threat in 15 years. But if goals are not met, the pandemic could get worse.
For 30 years, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In 1984, there were no drugs that targeted HIV/AIDS. There are now more than 30.
Fauci describes the progress in controlling HIV/AIDS as “extraordinary.”
"If you can put someone on anti-retrovirals relatively early in the course of their infection ... let us say they are a 25-year-old man or woman, you could look them in the eye as I do when I see them in my clinic three times a week, and tell them if they stay on their drug, you could project that they could live an additional 50, five-zero, years, which is one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in biomedical research in translation," said Fauci.
But the latest study shows only 30 percent of Americans with HIV are getting the right treatment for HIV. The number drops by half for those between the ages of 18 and 24.
Some experts blame the human factor: some people are afraid to find out their test results, others are tired of taking pills, don't feel like using condoms, and worry about the stigma that comes from having HIV.
Howard University in Washington sponsors a yearly conference to examine the stigma associated with this disease. Rod McCoy, who is HIV-positive, works with an organization that provides HIV education and testing.
"One of the things I am concerned about as a health educator is people staying on their meds, but also people who are not infected having the mentality of, 'Oh, people take medication, so if I get infected, I will be fine.' My concern is around the complacency around prevention because of the success of treatment,” said McCoy.
Dr. Fauci tells people at forums like those at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that complacency is why a vaccine against HIV is so needed.
"When we start seeing that there is such a low level of infection and the numbers look good, that is when we are going to have a rebound. My conclusion, then, is that it really is essential to durably control and end the AIDS epidemic is to have a vaccine," he said.
Even with extraordinary accomplishments in AIDS treatments that are driving down the numbers of people who get HIV, more than 35 million people around the world still have the virus, and the United Nations reports another 1.5 million people died from it in 2012, far too many lives to become complacent.