"Despite advances, lingering challenges in the global fight against AIDS" PBS NewsHour 12/1/2016
SUMMARY: On World AIDS Day, we take a look at efforts being made to improve prevention and treatment of the virus. While encouraging advancements have been achieved, AIDS is still the number one killer of women ages 18 to 55. William Brangham speaks with Jon Cohen of Science magazine about recent developments, why adolescents present a particular challenge and securing global funding to fight the disease.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): Today is World AIDS Day. While the death toll from AIDS has dropped dramatically, the virus still claims over a million people every year, and nearly 40 million remain infected.
William Brangham has an update.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour): With the growing use of medications to treat and prevent the spread of HIV, some say ending the AIDS epidemic is actually within reach. But AIDS is still the number one killer of reproductive-age women, and in many places, those lifesaving drugs are barely available.
Scientists are also seeking a vaccine. A new trial is under way right now in South Africa. But many remain skeptical.
I'm joined now by Science magazine's Jon Cohen, who's covered this epidemic for nearly 30 years and was a collaborator with us on our recent series about HIV and AIDS.
Jon Cohen, welcome back to the NewsHour.
Let's start off by talking about this vaccine trial in South Africa. As you well know, you wrote a book about the hunt for an HIV vaccine. What is happening in South Africa right now? Is this as promising as some think it is?
JON COHEN, “Science” magazine: Well, the AIDS vaccine is the Holy Grail.
People can come in, get a few shots, be protected for life. That's the dream. In Thailand in 2009, it was revealed that a vaccine being studied there protected people with about a 31 percent reduction in risk.
That's not very good. That's extremely low, but it was something. It was the first glimmer of hope. The vaccine trial in South Africa is building off that Thai trial. The results from the Thai trial were extremely controversial. There are people who wonder why that vaccine strategy has moved forward in South Africa, and there are South Africans who argue very strongly that this is a great hope for them, and even if they get some protection, in addition to other protective measures, it could make a big difference.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: OK. Now let's talk a little bit more broadly
Where are the successes currently in the fight against HIV? And where are those happening?
JON COHEN: Well, clearly, preventing mother-to-child transmission has been a huge success all around the world. It's one of the easiest things to do in terms of prevention.
And some countries like South Africa have reduced it to below 2 percent of pregnant women who are infected passing on the virus. That's a great success. Treatment now has scaled up from basically being zero in poor countries around the world in the year 2000 to 18.2 million of the 36.7 million infected people. Phenomenal success story.
People who are treated and stay on treatment fully suppress the virus and they rarely transmit to others. So that is leading to hope that epidemics can stop petering out.