Sunday, November 14, 2010

The clock is ticking.

On Friday, I was in downtown Philadelphia with my colleague Jose Demarco talking to the staff and clients of a local AIDS organization; we have a town meeting this Thursday.  I was explaining the case of the Berlin Patient and the follow up research taking place. People were fascinated, and a small crowd gathered around me. 

One man said, "My partner has that, (the CCR5 deletion that helped cure the Berlin Patient), and we're always trying to enroll in cure studies, but no one seems to be interested." I said that we are going to be collecting a list of people who want to participate in cure research. 

Then I pointed out that many researchers don't realize that people with AIDS still need a cure, since there are effective treatments. The group fell silent. They were stunned--They could not believe that researchers didn't know that they desperately want a cure.  Then there was a flurry of conversation and people wanted to know how they can send a message to researchers that people with AIDS need a cure.

We talked about what it's like to have HIV, even if you have access to AIDS meds. You could have an AIDS-related heart attack, or get lethal liver cancer or AIDS-related lymphoma that your body can't fight off. I have lost friends this way. A lot of people seem to be developing cognitive problems, including dementia. You can get facial wasting, or wasting through your whole body, or a hump on the back of your neck that tells the world you have AIDS. People seem to slide ominously from youth to old age.

Picture these people in the hundreds of thousands.

But the US is only a sliver of the global AIDS epidemic:  We are home to about 1/33 of the people with HIV in the world.  Of the roughly six million people who urgently need AIDS drugs right now, only 20%-30% have access to medication. The others are dying. And we may be at a high water mark for access to AIDS treatment--wealthy countries are cutting funding for AIDS treatment for people in developing countries. Getting treatment will be a struggle for them for the next 50 years, if they are successful. But without treatment now, they won't live to see a cure.

When you think about AIDS cure research, remember this: The clock is ticking. For people with AIDS in the US. And for the millions and millions of people in developing countries who are dying just like it's 1989. We need a cure.

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