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AIDS at 30: Progress being made or just more hopeful hype?

The Economist is hopeful

A number of articles have marked the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS by emphasizing the progress made so far against the disease and some recent scientific discoveries that raise hope.

To begin with, there is more evidence a vaccine is possible and new studies confirm that treatment IS prevention, so that expanding access to anti-HIV drugs could help stop the continuing spread of disease.

Others emphasize that the story so far is mostly a tragedy, a massive failure for the international community, as the loss of life today continues in poor countries where people lack access to these life-saving drugs.

Some 6 million people in the developing world have received the drugs due to initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — a big increase over the past 10 years — but more than 9 million who need them still lack access. And donors are not stepping up with new funds.

A few notable stories:

The Economist: The end of AIDS?

Reuters: 30 years on, AIDS fight may tilt more to treatment

New York Times: We are still learning from AIDS

Much of the current hopefulness, expressed most forcibly by The Economist, stems from this discovery that getting everyone who is HIV-infected on treatment could largely curtail the spread of AIDS. Here are a few of those skeptical of this idea:

Tim France, in Global Health Sushi, “More Spin Than Rigour” argues that it is extremely wishful thinking to assume that we can expand treatment to all who need it in the developing world. France, based in Chiang Mai and Geneva, has worked for decades as a consultant to leading global health organizations and served as editor for leading scientific journals. He criticizes The Economist and others in the media for raising false hopes::

So why all the excitement and focus on merely the potential positives of this new data? In my view it’s because the HIV response desperately needs some good news right now.

Similarly, Mead Over at the Center for Global Development, notes  in Still no reason to stall male circumcision, forget the HIV vaccine or throw away your condom that many are pointing to the new evidence that Treatment is Prevention as if it has already transformed the fight against AIDS.

But is the evidence surprising and powerful enough to be a “game changer” as Michel Sidibe, the director of UNAIDS declared, or “to end, or at least diminish, a bitter feud within the AIDS world over how much funding should go to treatment versus prevention,” as the Wall Street Journal has suggested?

Over says it is not.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.