He expressed hope in an interview with Axios, saying about 1.2 million people in America are living with HIV, but the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic may be achievable by 2030. The United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said, he began the journey to find a vaccine for the disease around 40 years ago, and even though it’s been sidetracked by COVID-19, the aim to curb HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to be one of the most important things for him.
“I’m probably one of the few individuals who were there from the very first day that we realised we were dealing with a new disease,” Dr. Fauci revealed speaking to Axios.
He said he vividly remembered first hearing about unusual pneumonia found in five young gay men who had critically low white CD4 blood cells.
In 1981, I thought it was a fluke: Fauci
Dr. Fauci said he initially thought it was a fluke, but soon – in July 1981 – reports emerged of 26 similar cases in gay men in Long Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, and he quickly realised that it was something more significant than what he had imagined.
“Those patients not only had the same pneumocystis pneumonia but also Kaposi’s sarcoma, a strange kind of cancer, again only seen in immunosuppressed people, as well as a number of other opportunistic infections.” Dr. Fauci further added in the Axios interview.
On the possibility of finding a vaccine for HID/AIDS, he said, “We may get a home run… I believe we will get there, but it may not necessarily be with a highly effective vaccine. It may be with a combination of things.”
34.7 million people killed by AIDS/HIV
So far, the epidemic has killed 34.7 million people, out of which 6,90,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2020 alone.
The chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden has spent a good portion of his long career tackling the global AIDS epidemic, which started to appear as a mysterious illness in June 1981.
“The first few years were the darkest years of my medical career, because I was working countless hours taking care of desperately ill young men,” Fauci said in the interview.
In 1986, scientists discovered the first therapy AZT that gave some temporary help to patients. Dr. Fauci said he thought suddenly the clouds had moved away and the sun had started shining. But the virus quickly developed resistance to the therapy.
‘Triple-combination drug was a major breakthrough’
Then in 1996, a major breakthrough was achieved in HIV treatment via a triple-combination drug that was able to dramatically diminish the level of virus in a person’s blood.
He said since then multiple drug treatments have been developed, and researchers have brought the therapy down from 28 separate pills a day to one pill a day, and an early treatment began to mean that patients may resume a normal life.
Scientists have also developed a very effective pre-exposure prophylactic drug for people at risk of HIV called PrEP that can reduce the risk of someone getting HIV from sex by around 99%.
But what remains to achieve is finding a vaccine – which remains elusive – to curb the pandemic which was confirmed 40 years ago.