Timothy Ray Brown was the first person to be cured of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) over a decade ago. Excitingly, researchers recently announced another person has experienced long-term remission!
We’re making progress
For a long time, it was thought that Brown’s cure was a fluke. That doubt has been put to rest as another individual — known as the “London patient” for privacy reasons — has now been in remission for 18 months since he stopped taking antiretroviral drugs. While it’s still too early to determine if the London patient is cured for life, he is showing a similar response to Brown, who has been HIV-free for over 12 years.
In both instances, the milestones were a result of bone-marrow transplants that were intended to treat blood cancer. But doctors found that after the transplants, both the cancer and the HIV were cured.
The transplants were from a donor with a rare genetic mutation: a protein on their immune cells that do not allow HIV to latch on and infect the cells. The transplanted immune cells, resistant to HIV, replaced their vulnerable immune cells, causing the virus to completely disappear from the patient’s blood.
This is a major step in the fight against AIDS. While this method is not viable or appropriate for all people living with HIV, it provides crucial insight into what is possible.
AIDS is still a crisis
Globally, there are 37 million people living with HIV — more than 15 million of whom can’t get life-saving treatment — and another 1.8 million people are infected with HIV every year. Over 2,500 people die from AIDS-related causes every day.
In the hardest hit countries, young women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. Their heightened risk often stems from factors tied to gender discrimination, including pressure on women and girls to have unsafe sex, lack of information about protection, and the prominence of gender-based violence. Nowhere is this trend more problematic than sub-Saharan Africa, where young women are twice as likely as young men to be living with HIV and where 773 young women age 15-24 contract HIV each day.
While the discovery of a cure could potentially change the future for those already infected with HIV, it’s crucial that we continue to step up the fight against HIV/AIDS with the tools that we have today.
The Global Fund
The Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is one of the world’s most powerful tools in the fight against these diseases. In countries where the Global Fund invests, 17.5 million people accessed anti-retroviral therapy (ART), 79 million HIV tests were completed, and HIV prevention services and programs reached 9.4 million people in 2017 alone.
To make sure the Global Fund can continue with their critical work, they will be hosting their sixth replenishment conference in October. They’re asking world leaders and private investors to come together and help save 16 million lives between 2021 and 2023. To achieve this incredible feat, the Global Fund needs to raise at least US$14 billion.
This investment is the bold ambition the world needs to get us on track to stop the spread of these diseases — and it’s why we’re calling on world leaders to #StepUpTheFight by fully financing the Global Fund.
This news reminds us that progress is happening, so let’s step up the fight. Are you in? Add your name here.
image via Wikimedia Commons