Three Decades and Counting: Why the World Needs an HIV Vaccine

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD). As the world approaches 30 years since the first reported AIDS cases, it is an opportunity to commemorate the lives of so many who have been lost and to record our achievements during the past three decades in bringing care and support to millions of people worldwide. Community advocates have acted heroically to educate and care for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. This leadership has saved countless lives.

African Americans and Hispanics continue to shoulder the burden of the epidemic representing nearly 2/3rds of the U.S. epidemic. Most notably, while African Americans represent approximately 14 percent of the population, the latest CDC estimates show that they account for almost half (46 percent) of people living with HIV and nearly half of new infections each year (45 percent). From the earliest days, gay men of all races and ethnicities have accounted for a majority of HIV cases in the United States each year and nearly 300,000 have died. Globally, more than half of HIV infections occur in women. Here in Atlanta and across the south we see an epidemic that is growing among men and women, young and old, urban and rural.

Recent advances in HIV/AIDS prevention research are providing new hope for more effective methods to stop the AIDS epidemic. In 2009, a trial in Thailand demonstrated for the first time that an experimental HIV vaccine could protect some humans against HIV infection. In 2010, scientists reported that HIV-fighting drugs tested in preventive strategies known as microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) helped reduce new infections. In 2011, studies are being planned to determine whether PrEP can work in the real world while vaccine trials continue to expand. Most recently an HIV prevention trial that studied couples, in which one partner is HIV+ and on early treatment, showed great success in preventing transmission. But HIV medications are expensive, and must be taken for a lifetime. The potential for an HIV vaccine has both public health and economic benefits that could change or end the epidemic. Emory University in partnership with groups such as SisterLove, NAESM, and AID Atlanta is a leading center of this research.

History has shown with diseases such as polio, typhoid, small pox and measles that a vaccine is likely the only practical way to end the epidemic. Educating ourselves and our communities about HIV vaccine and biomedical prevention research is something we can all do to build support for these efforts. Information can be found at www.bethegeneration.nih.gov.

In recognition of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day on May 18, 2011 and the 30th year of the AIDS epidemic on June 5th, we must recommit our nation to the development of a vaccine and other prevention strategies to protect the lives of those we love.

Sandra Thruman
Dazon Dixon Diallo

By Dázon Dixon Diallo, Founder/President, SisterLove & Sandra Thruman, Director, Interfaith Health Program, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.

SisterLove is on a mission to eradicate the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health challenges upon women and their families through education, prevention, support and human rights advocacy in the United States and around the world. http://sisterlove.org

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