HRC Blog

Battling Complacency = Ending AIDS in Our Lifetime

Jose ZunigaThe following post comes from Dr. José M. Zuniga, President/CEO of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care:

As more than 25,000 people prepare to converge in Washington, DC, for the 19th International AIDS Conference (aka AIDS 2012), I am reminded of my first such conference almost two decades ago in Yokohama, Japan. The conference’s content and ensuing mood was dreary, to say the least, as we contemplated managing HIV with limited (and largely ineffective) treatment options that failed to prevent this insidious virus’ onslaught on vulnerable communities worldwide.

Two years later, we celebrated the advent of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) at another such conference. Over the next 16 years, this discovery transformed HIV diagnoses from automatic death sentences to an opportunity to manage a chronic condition, where access to treatment is not a barrier. Sadly, our progress translated into a false hope among some at-risk populations (including gay men and other men who have sex with men [MSM]) that we had discovered a “silver bullet” against HIV infection, erroneously obviating the need for condom use and other such precautions.

As we gather for AIDS 2012, we will once more hear optimistic news about ART’s potential to curb HIV transmission via two biomedical prevention interventions known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treatment as prevention (TasP). With both interventions, we face the challenge of ensuring that people adhere to medication dosing in order to ensure a preventive benefit and to avoid drug resistance. But we also face the challenge of convincing people to continue to use condoms and other HIV prevention methods, since “combination prevention,” or the use of ART and conventional prevention efforts will be critical to stemming the global tide of new HIV infections (currently 18,000 a day).

Succeeding in doing so will require engagement by every single stakeholder, but most notably people at risk for and living with HIV/AIDS, their advocates, representative institutions and myriad communities in which they live. No one can afford to believe they have no role to play, or that it is someone else’s responsibility to act decisively. Unfortunately, the longevity of the global HIV pandemic (30-plus years) has contributed to fatigue, which has allowed a foothold for complacency – both individual and institutional. HIV treatment achievements, and those soon to come in the prevention of HIV transmission, are also reinforcing and propagating that sense of complacency. By battling complacency and re-doubling our efforts, we stand a fighting chance of ending AIDS in our lifetime.

Dr. José M. Zuniga is President/CEO of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC), which represents more than 17,000 clinicians in over 100 countries. Dr. Zuniga will moderate a panel on “Addressing Stigma in Transgender and other HIV-Vulnerable Communities” on Saturday, July 21, 2012, at HRC headquarters from 5 to 7 pm. Those who cannot attend in person are encouraged to watch live online. Learn more about the event here.

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