November 15, 2011

The goal of an AIDS-free generation: The time to invest in science is now

Executive Director

Mitchell Warren, the executive director of AVAC and a founding member of GHTC, wrote the following op-ed in reaction to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at the National Institutes of Health and her announcement to prioritize achieving an AIDS-free generation. This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill’s “Congress Blog” this week.

Last week at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out an ambitious vision to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In a statement that no US leader has made before, Clinton said that it is possible to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

The goal Secretary Clinton lays out is indeed possible, and we welcome her announcement of an additional $60 million for implementation of a combination of prevention strategies in four sub-Saharan African countries and evaluation of their impact. But this funding can only be viewed as a down payment on the work that needs to be done. In order to get there, the Obama administration, along with developed and developing country governments around the world, need to add specific commitments, milestones, and strategies to the vision. And they need to commit to the long haul.

It is 16 days to World AIDS Day, and we expect to hear additional commitments and see leadership from President Obama, with an eye to both the international and domestic epidemics.

The good news is that, as Secretary Clinton emphasized, there is a strong foundation on which to build. Thanks in large part to prior US support for HIV research and implementation, particularly via the NIH, we have today three key tools to help end the epidemic: voluntary medical male circumcision, effective treatment for people living with HIV, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. If taken to scale, the number of new infections will plummet.

But Secretary Clinton also noted the need to continue developing new tools for tomorrow. The commitment to both research and implementation must be unwavering.

There are three critical research priorities that require long-term investment to truly close the door on AIDS. First, we need real-world research to understand how best to use additional HIV prevention tools that were recently found effective in clinical trials, including topical microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Second, we need to sustain the search for a vaccine to prevent HIV, especially now that the vaccine field is being re-energized by promising new scientific advances. Third, we need to pursue the increasingly real possibility of developing a functional cure for HIV infection. It is critical to sustain investments in research and development for additional powerful prevention tools.

On World AIDS Day, we will be listening for a strong, specific commitment to scaling up the tools we have at our disposal immediately, with a focus on combination prevention and an emphasis on HIV testing and counseling, which is the gateway to male circumcision, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and treatment and care for HIV positive people.

Now is the best possible moment to invest in research, when the possibilities for long-term success are greater than ever before. This is when we should double down on some of the amazing successes we’ve seen in the past few years. As Secretary Clinton said in her speech, it is possible to create an AIDS-free generation. Research has made this goal possible, and we must stay focused on the future.

We cannot turn back now. Not when there is a potential end to this epidemic finally in sight.