International AIDS Vaccine Day - Pushing Towards Advancing Research Efforts in the Field

May 18 marks World AIDS Vaccine Day, also known as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. Not to be confused, this noble initiative does not promote a vaccine as there is no vaccine against HIV infection at this time, but what we are reminded of is the urgent need of pushing for research to find an effective vaccine which might save the lives of millions of people potentially risking the contraction of the HIV virus.

Even though the overall growth of AIDS epidemic world-wide seems to have stabilised, levels of new infections are still too high, pointing to millions of possible future deaths in consequence of AIDS. In fact, since the epidemic started in the first place at the beginning of the 1980's, more than 60 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and more than 30 million people have died of AIDS.

Some of the most interesting statistics published by UNAIDS and WHO report that:

  • In 2009, there were about 2.9 million people who became infected with HIV, one fifth fewer than the estimated 3.2 million of newly infected in 2007
  • 1. 8 million of these newly infected cases in 2009 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa alone, where in the same year it was estimated 5.6 million people lived with HIV, Swaziland being the country with the highest infection rate in the world (25.9%)
  • There is an estimated 19% decrease of HIV-related deaths globally among children between 2004 and 2009
  • In 2010 there were about 34 million people living with HIV, 2.7 million new infections and 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths
  • In Eastern Europe and Central Asia HIV transmission is still on the high and rising in networks of drug users and their sexual partners
  • Stats show that there is a male population prevalence among those infected, being the only exceptions the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa

Map graphically displaying the global prevalence of HIV in 2009 (UNAIDS):

As striking as these numbers are, often we do not perceive the issue unless we are personally involved in it. However, there is no cure for AIDS and the only possible treatment lies in administrating antiretroviral therapy to stop the progression of the disease, while prevention focuses on raising awareness among the communities, encouraging counselling and testing. Another issue to think about is the limited access of many millions of people suffering from HIV to therapy in consequence of an economically-disadvantaged status.

In view of the silent killer virus called HIV taking so many lives in the past two decades, the concept of World AIDS Vaccine Day was introduce on May 18, 1997 when ex-US President Bill Clinton gave a commencement speech at Morgan State University, with the scope of raising global awareness on the pressing need of a vaccine against HIV, stating that "Only a truly effective, preventive HIV vaccine can limit and eventually eliminate the threat of AIDS".

Since 1997, advocates of the above-mentioned initiative have worked hard to involve both governments and audiences in endorsing the cause and they have certainly had an impact; more and more action is being undertaken by the ones who do have the power to push for today's science, technology and research to find a vaccine. However, a lot more is to be done on the front of spreading information on HIV prevention measures to decrease infection and the AIDS-related death toll. On the other side of the AIDS tunnel, in 2009 a clinical trial in Thailand proved that a vaccine could prevent HIV but has not been licensed due to the modesty of protection it provided. Since then, this first step towards engineering a potentially commercial vaccine has fuelled research, awakening the hopes of many and rewarding the hard work of those who have been supporting the cause since the early days. Moreover, another important milestone was reached just a few hours before this article was drafted: the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test, made by OraSure Technologies Inc, should be approved in the US as the Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted unanimously that the drug's ability to prevent new HIV infections and provide HIV-positive people with access to medical care and social services outweighed the risks of false results. Finally, the route to an HIV-free world seems now more perceptible than ever.

For more information on World AIDS Vaccine Day and to join the cause please visit the official web-site of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Also, you can read, share and download for free the following inTech publications in the field:

Understanding HIV/AIDS Management and Care - Pandemic Approaches in the 21st Century, edited by Fyson Hanania Kasenga, InTech, Dec. 2011

Recent Translational Research in HIV/AIDS, edited by Yi-Wei Tang, InTech, Nov. 2011

Social and Psychological Aspects of HIV/AIDS and their Ramifications, edited by Gobopamang Letamo, InTech, Oct. 2011

HIV and AIDS - Updates on Biology, Immunology, Epidemiology and Treatment Strategies, edited by Nancy Dumais, InTech, Oct. 2011

Article sources:

http://www.WHO.org

http://www.unaids.org/en/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2145084/HIV-test-used-home-backed-FDA-panel.html

Article by:

Ana Nodilo, nodilo@intechopen.com

Pictures by:

http://www.unaids.org/en/