First diagnosed in the early 80s, HIV and AIDS have both evolved into a global epidemic the likes of which the world has never known. There are few people in society, who do not know of the existence of this devastating disease that has destroyed families, friendships and communities.
According to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, which is dedicated to ending the spread of HIV and AIDs, since the beginning of the global health crisis of HIV and AIDS, nearly 78 million people have contracted HIV and close to 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes.
However, there is hope for the victims of this disease, as it is reported that around 15 million people living with HIV (41 percent of the total) had access to antiretroviral therapy as of March 2015.
Thanks to ongoing medicinal efforts and strenuous research, there is now actual therapy that can not only vastly extend the life of the person who has contracted the devastating virus, but can also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. As stated by the Department of Health and Human Services on its AIDS.gov website, antiretroviral therapy or ART, is a combination of medication - referred to as a HIV Regimen - that is given to a patient in order to prevent the virus from multiplying, reducing the amount of HIV in your body. This allows your immune system to recover and fight off infections and cancers that would normally do great harm to your immune system if your body was not protected by the immune system. It should be noted that ART is not a cure for HIV, considering that all of the active HIV is not completely eradicated from the body, however it is strongly recommended that everyone who has been diagnosed with HIV should begin the necessary steps towards antiretroviral therapy, as it is certain that if left unchecked and untreated, HIV will attack your immune system and will eventually progress into AIDS.
While a long way from a possible cure, there have been relatively recent innovations that allow HIV negative people that are in high-risk situations to remain free of infection of the disease and that innovation is known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Association, the PrEP pill utilizes an HIV medication known as Truvada, which is a combination of two HIV medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine) and effectively blocks important pathways that HIV uses for infection. According to AIDS.gov, if taken as prescribed, which is every day, this pill can be as much as 90 percent effective in reducing HIV contraction in high-risk patients and it can be even more effective if combined with other methods of HIV prevention, such as condom usage, drug abuse treatment, and the use of ART for those living with HIV.
While this innovation seems like a pathway into a future where HIV/AIDS does not exist, it is important to remember that PrEP is not 100 percent effective at preventing the spread of HIV.
Unfortunately, as of February 25, 2016, the first confirmed case of PrEP failure has been reported. At the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infection (CROI 2016) conference in Boston, details were released of a case study where a 43 year old gay man living in Toronto, Canada, had contracted a multi-drug resistant strain of the virus, even though he had adhered to the strict PrEP regimen that he was given.
While he is currently living healthily with HIV, due to his antiretroviral therapy, it is still a shock to the scientific community, as none of the tens of thousands of patients studied taking PrEP contracted HIV. A quote from the website, aidsmap.com, states, “It is not unexpected that there would be occasional cases of PrEP failure; but the fact that this is the first case report among the tens of thousands of people now taking PrEP shows that it is very rare.”
While it has been affirmed that this drug has a very low probability of failing to prevent the infection of HIV, this reported case can be very harmful to the drug’s reputation, as now, critics have factual evidence of the drug not being able to prevent one from becoming infected by HIV. Many in the medical profession have concerns that this case and publicity surrounding it may also increase the already pervasive stigma that exists around HIV and PrEP regimens, even though certain communities stand to benefit from educating themselves on this disease and precautions that can be taken against it.