The threat of another worldwide AIDS pandemic was a hot topic at the recent International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017), reports Foreign Policy. The three-day annual conference, which focuses on scientific advancements made in treatment and immunization of the virus, is often the site of announcements of hopeful breakthroughs. But this year, in addition to the good news came this grim prediction, which — if certain things remain unchanged — could mean disaster for the global fight against HIV and AIDS.
The three core issues that experts say could cause a massive second wave of the epidemic are:
New strains of drug-resistant HIV.
Looming manufacturing limitations of first-line antiretroviral drugs.
A lack of sufficient funding applied toward the global HIV/AIDS problem — an issue that which will most likely worsen in the current global political climate.
Drug-Resistance Continues to Cause Treatment Problems
An unfortunate scientific reality is that HIV is a constantly mutating virus — and many of the newer strains are drug-resistant. This causes a major problem with the “treatment as prevention” method (TasP) focusing on getting one’s viral load to undetectable levels so that the virus can’t be transmitted.
A recent World Health Organization survey estimates that in some countries as many as 10 percent of the people who start antiretroviral therapy have a form of the virus that is drug-resistant, which greatly increases the costs of care and diminishes treatment success.
Manufacturing Limits Hinder HIV Drug Supply & Costs
Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson, warns that the world’s manufacturers simply cannot sustain 40 or 50 years of manufacturing sufficient amounts of anti-HIV drugs to keep the tens of millions people living with the virus alive. As individuals develop resistance to the cheap first-line drugs, each new category of anti-HIV chemistry gets more difficult to make, more costly, and carries more risk of dangerous side effects that require expensive monitoring and care.
Lack of Funding Threatens Poorest Countries
The lack of funding from the world’s wealthier countries already has put many poorer countries in difficult, if not impossible, situations in their attempts to control the spread of HIV. And that funding is only predicted to decrease, especially with much-needed funds and programs that come from the U.S.
President Donald Trump released his proposed budget in March, indicating enormous cuts in all forms of foreign assistance should be expected, including to PEPFAR (The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) — which former President George W. Bush and longtime HIV/AIDS activist Bono together recently urged the new president not to do.
When announcing the budget proposal, director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, stated that the president is “going to spend less money overseas.… this administration intends to change course from a soft-power budget to a hard-power budget. And that’s a message that our adversaries and our allies alike should take.”