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End to AIDS Epidemic: Is It Near?

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End to AIDS Epidemic: Is It Near?
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End to AIDS Epidemic: Is It Near? (ABC News)

By DR. MONIQUE DUWELL

"I was 3 years old when my parents found out I had AIDS, and the doctors told my adoptive parents that I wouldn't live to be 5 years old," says 28-year old Hydeia Broadbent.

In the 1980s, few treatment options were available for children like Broadbent, so her parents took her to the National Institute of Health for experimental treatment. Nearly three decades later, as a testament to this treatment, she is still alive.

"The blueprint for the treatment we have now was tested on me and my friends with AIDS, and I've been on treatment ever since."

Broadbent is one of 34 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States who are living with HIV. She started speaking out about having AIDS when she was 6 years old, and hasn't stopped since.

"If I can use my voice, my name and my life to be a positive example for living with AIDS, then that's what I'm going to do," she said. "I pray that a cure will happen. I believe that it can."

Broadbent is not alone. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "We are at a point in the HIV pandemic where we have the scientific basis to be able to say with a degree of certainty that if we implement properly and aggressively on a global scale what science has given us, we can appreciate the reality at some time in the reasonable future - what we call the end of the AIDS pandemic or an AIDS-free generation."

In this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, Fauci and his colleague Gregory Folkers outline recent scientific advances in AIDS research, and the way forward for implementing these tools in working towards an AIDS-free generation.

Among the tools proven effective against AIDS are, first, effective combination antiretroviral therapy. These medications can save the lives of people living with HIV, as well as prevent transmission to sexual partners and from mother to child. Second, male circumcision has been shown to decrease the risk of a heterosexual man contracting HIV. And finally, a daily medication can now be used to prevent contracting HIV, termed "pre-exposure prophylaxis" and recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

But there is more work to be done. While these interventions are effective, delivering them remains a challenge. For example, an estimated 8 million people in need of HIV treatment still do not have access to it.

Scaling up and refining these interventions will require more than just science, according to Fauci.

"We now have no excuse scientifically to say 'we cannot do it.' We can do it. The real issue is, will we do it?" he said. "[It will] require a global commitment, political will, organizational will and individual will."

What is next on the horizon for scientists? Currently, scientists are focusing on developing an HIV vaccine and potentially a cure. This past week, the International AIDS Society released the first-ever strategy for finding a cure for AIDS, identifying specific steps needed to advance the research in this field.

Fauci will be joined by others today who share his optimism. Returning to the United States for the first time in 22 years, the International AIDS Conference convenes in Washington, D.C., today under the theme "Turning the Tide Together." There, scientists from around the world are gathering for a week to present the latest research advances.

Broadbent said she hopes their work will lead to the end of the AIDS pandemic.

"Being part of the first generation of children born with AIDS, it would be great to see a generation who doesn't have to worry about this disease - the treatment, the costs, and the fights with insurance companies, and to know that a mother with AIDS can have children without it," she said. "The reality is that it will take all us working together to bring the epidemic to an end."

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