In 1992, James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” to focus the Clintonites in their successful bid to gain the presidency and, in so doing, created a monster snowclone (a customizable, formulaic cliché).
When it comes to HIV/AIDS, it’s clear that no single approach – or snowclone – can beat the pandemic. It will be a combination of treatment and prevention strategies that turns the tide. But many say success against HIV/AIDS will ultimately hinge on whether or not we get a vaccine.
Out of last week’s International AIDS Conference in Vienna, news coverage focused on the need to expand access to (and funding of) treatment worldwide, the promise of a new female microbicide and of male circumcision as effective methods for preventing HIV transmission. Delegates also called for an end to the “War on Drugs” as one of many stigmatizing, punitive measures that fuels the spread of disease.
I was struck by how much media attention was given to these legitimate concerns and how little was focused on recent developments – a vaccine study in Thailand and discovery of new human antibodies – that have literally resurrected the hope for a vaccine against HIV/AIDS.
Only a year ago, many were despairing that an HIV vaccine might be impossible.
“We need a big game changer,” said Dr. Peter Piot, former director of UNAIDS, currently head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a world-renowned expert on HIV/AIDS. “That game changer can only be an AIDS vaccine.”
An estimated 2.7 million people are newly infected by HIV every year. Tens of billions of dollars are spent already in response to the pandemic, but less than a billion of that goes to vaccine research and funding for this crucial research arena has remained flat for the last few years.