Hopes of imminent HIV/Aids cure dashed

HARARE - The world has to wait for around 10 to 20 more years for a cure of HIV, researchers at the just-ended 18th International Conference on HIV and STIs in Africa (Icasa) said.

They however, said in the meantime attention is being focused on using the available treatment as a prevention measure so as to get to zero new infections by 2030.

United States of America-based clinical researcher Garry Blick said although headway has been made in finding a cure to HIV most of them were not yet ready for use.

“There is no cure, but if you get tested and are positive and get HIV drugs and it is undetectable, according to research, if you are twenty years today and you get on HIV therapy today your life-span in the developed world is an additional 69 years, and up to 89 years old, that is ten times greater than a general population that do not have HIV,” Blick said.

The researcher added that “it is going to take up to about 10 to 20 years. The easiest and obvious is Treatment as Prevention TasP and Pre- Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) together, so we have to get everybody tested”.

This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a new set of HIV treatment guidelines which recommended everyone who tests positive to be put on Anti-Retro Viral Therapy and allow people to access PrEP.

“One other way to cure somebody who is HIV-positive, though it is still in the infancy stage, is to get the virus that is hiding in the body in what we call reservoirs activated into the blood stream so we can attack it using procedures and therapies. So if you activate that virus that’s when you get to do a gene therapy, which may work or may not work.

“There is also the functional cure, where you get someone off drugs with a low viral load of less than a thousand and there is the functional cure, but that’s in phase two.

“And then the sterilisation cure, like the one used on the Berlin patient Timothy Brown, but it’s difficult to do a bone marrow transplantation, how toxic it is and how people can die during transplantation as they build their immune system again, so that’s not ready.”

Blick, who is the founder of World Health Clinicians, an HIV specialist in the United States since 1987 and a clinical researcher since 1990 as well as founder of the BEAT Aids Project Zimbabwe said it had also proved hard to get an HIV vaccine, as the virus is always mutating.

“The problem with HIV and hepatitis C is that they mutate, they vary, they change on a regular basis, so no matter what you come up with it can adapt against it. I started my research in 1990 with a vaccine called gp160, it seems to be coming around again now Bob Galloway in the US has been working on a GP 120 for a vaccine, I don’t have much hope for it.”

“To be honest with you, our head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease Antony Fauci said in 1984 we will have a vaccine in 10 years, and in 1994 he said again in 10 years and by 2004 he stopped saying that, I tell you, that’s how hard it’s going to be to create a vaccine that’s going to stop HIV infections seriously,” Blick said.

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