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Obama’s $100 Million HIV Research Initiative is Sorely Needed

Obama’s $100 Million HIV Research Initiative is Sorely Needed

President Obama has announced a new $100 million commitment to HIV research. As figures out this week show HIV rates are still rising among men who have sex with men, this commitment is sorely needed.

To commemorate the 25th World AIDS Day this past week President Obama announced that the National Institute of Health would be shifting existing funds to the tune of $100 million and channeling them into new HIV/AIDS research. This, the President said, was about ensuring that the United States remains at the forefront of the battle to beat the virus.

“The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries into how to put people into long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies — or better yet, eliminate it completely,” Obama is quoted as saying.

Over the next three fiscal years, money will be channeled from existing sources and from expiring AIDS research grants into cutting edge research for an HIV cure.

This initiative aims to capitalize on recent scientific findings where HIV has been put into remission or even functionally cured (not the same as being completely eradicated from the body) via procedures like bone marrow transplants and aggressive treatment regimens. These have so far been minority cases that, because of their extremes, do not translate into wider-reaching treatment programs. What they do suggest, however, is that an HIV cure really might be possible and indicate key research areas to explore.

Other research options being touted as promising include the identification of antibodies that may be able to neutralize several HIV strains, and hoping to replicate the biological mechanisms that mean some people simply do not contract HIV.

At the same time, the Obama administration announced the United States would pledge $5 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria if other countries also contribute their share. This week the President also signed into law the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013, legislation reaffirming the United States’ commitment to ending the global HIV/AIDS crisis.

This comes as startling new figures reveal that several at risk populations, in particular men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States, are continuing with their ambivalent attitude toward HIV and are not using condoms even if they are unsure of their HIV status.

The findings, in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), say that while HIV positive men are not having significantly more unprotected sex than in previous years, the numbers of MSM who are not aware of their status and who are having unprotected sex has risen.

The breakdown says that, relative to 2005′s figures, the proportion of men reporting having sex without a condom increased by 21% among HIV-negative or untested men. It went up 12.5% among HIV-positive men.

Perhaps the more interesting figure is that the increase among HIV positive men doesn’t appear to be among our youngest sexually mature generation. The CDC found that 55% of 18- to 24-year-olds reported having sex without a condom while 72% of 30 to 39-year-olds reported the same. These figures did not adjust for those who are having sex with other HIV positive people, or those using a pill which can prevent the spread of HIV. It does not necessarily undercut data showing that globally most new HIV infections are occurring among 13-24 year-olds either, but it does serve to suggest that focusing on youth awareness strategies alone could miss key at risk populations.

With the rise of effective anti-retrovirals, the fear of HIV no longer seems to be a motivator for using protection. Indeed, HIV is no longer the death sentence it was during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s — and that is undeniably a good thing. Still, it should go without saying that HIV is serious and for many can be debilitating if not in terms of the health impact as the psychological effects of being tied to cumbersome treatment regimens for the rest of your life.

There is a pressing need, then, to find new ways to reach the MSM community that do not hark back to scaremongering and that focus instead on the evidenced drawbacks of being HIV positive and the reasons why it should be avoided both in terms of personal interest but also social responsibility. There are programs that are getting this right, including the HIV Equal program that promotes an end to stigma but at the same time responsible practices like continued HIV testing.

So while the Obama administration is certainly right to funnel money into an HIV/AIDS cure, it is worth considering that new barrier methods – like revolutionizing condoms — and awareness programs must also be given their share of funds. It’s true that there is  no one way to beat HIV/AIDS, but certainly the United States reaffirming its commitment to trying for a cure and to dealing with the situation as it currently stands is what’s needed.

Related Story:

Lack of Fear Leads to an Increase in HIV and STDs for Young People

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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1:31AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

The best birth control pills are 98% effective against pregnancy According to one statistical study this means that if all fertile women took the most effective birth control pill consistently and correctly according to a mathematical model 30% would become pregnant in a ten year period. Condoms are at best only 80% effective against pregnancy so they can't be any more effective against HIV and men who have sex with other men sometimes are not having sex under the same conditions that heterosexual sex takes place making correct condom usage even more difficult (for ex. more rushed, no bed etc). We cannot just chant the condom mantra giving people a false sense of security. For both emotional and physical safety young people must be taught that fidelity and monogamy are the goals to which all people who wish to be sexually active, gay, straight, or bi, MUST aspire. We should promote the idea that the main purpose of sex should be to enhance the emotional intimacy and commitment of a two person relationship

5:44PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Tracy F, when I read comments like "just use a condom", it makes me angry. It's a very America/First World-centric notion to think that's all it takes to cure AIDS. My foster child, Pritha, was a beautiful and innocent girl who died through no fault of her own.
And you can stop paying taxes for medical research when I can stop paying taxes for wars and wiretaps.

5:30PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Poul, I agree with your comment. The mega-pharmas aren't doing the research for free and they won't give the drugs away for free. They expect the U.S. taxpayers to pay for both the research and supplying the drugs to people. No matter how many bleeding heart arguments people make you can't make forcing taxpayers to pay for this right.

5:26PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Christopher, it is sad that you think the future of mankind is in synthetic drugs obtained from the suffering of animals.

5:23PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Linda H, you're sounding a little self-righteous yourself.

3:43PM PST on Dec 9, 2013

Wow, this article really brought out the self-righteous trolls... I would expect better from a "caring" group like this. Women in Africa and India are getting infected because they have no choice, culturally. Their unborn babies are the most innocent of victims. Thanks to research, mothers can take a drug for just a few weeks before giving birth, which costs just a few dollars, and the baby will be born healthy. My first Indian foster child, Pritha, died of AIDS at 6 years old. She was an orphan after losing both parents and her brother to AIDS. Only the grandfather is left, grieving for his entire family. Yes, I DO think we need to fund AIDS research. We could fund it with a tiny percentage of our bloated national security system.

9:15AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

All research that advances medicine and our understanding of the universe should get funding. This is not some fleeting or temporary cause; it is the future of mankind and all who inhabit the Earth which is at stake.

6:59AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

I just saw a science show on TV that talked about two other viruses in Africa similar to HIV that "probably" have not crossed over to humans yet. These viruses were not carried by primates. I hope we will all take extra caution when handling animals, domestic or wild, and especially avoid allowing any body fluid to come in contact with broken skin.

Really interesting summary of the history of HIV ( a longer timeline than you think!):

11:09PM PST on Dec 8, 2013

Alan, you live in a fantasy world. But keep on believing - they rely on people like you to tow the line. $100 million in profit for the political/corporate revolving door. Oh ya, the wonderful, cure- seeking pharma industry. Get informed before you crawl from under your rock.

10:24PM PST on Dec 8, 2013

What does Obama get out of it? $$$?

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