Stopping the stigma and zero discrimination can lead to an end to the Aids epidemic
Since 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) has marked 1 December as World Aids Day,a day dedicated to raising awareness on the Aids epidemic, caused by the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, and to mourning those who have died of the disease.
GSK Malta is marking this day by creating awareness of HIV infection and the importance of early diagnosis and optimal treatment. Unfortunately, many people are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status or take antiretroviral therapy due to the stigma associated with the disease and fear of discrimination against people living with HIV.
Nearly half of all HIV cases are diagnosed late (ECDC). As research is constantly leading to better treatments, early diagnosis increases the chance of living a long, healthy life and reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to other people. Following a positive diagnosis, it is important that patients are offered post-test counselling linked to specialist medical and social care, and provided with the best option to start antiretroviral therapy (ART), while offering HIV testing for their partners.
There is still no cure for HIV, but life-changing antiretroviral therapy (ART), consisting of increasingly effective medications that treat HIV, has helped significantly since the start of the epidemic. ART is taken as a combination of medicines to suppress viral load or the amount of HIV in the blood. The goal is to achieve and maintain an “undetectable” viral load, and to stop the virus from destroying the body’s infection-fighting CD4 cells.
Steady five-year increase in Malta
In Malta, there has been a sharp and steady increase in the number of reported HIV infections over the past five years. In 2015 there were 50 newly diagnosed persons infected with HIV compared to 17 new cases reported in 2010 (figures were published following a question raised in Parliament in December 2015). This requires an urgent call for action to increase awareness of HIV infection and ensure that people at most risk of contracting the disease are tested and, if required, receive optimal treatment early on in the disease.
There are a number of preventative means that may reduce the risk of HIV transmission. These include the use of condoms which may not be 100 per cent effective, the use of sterile injections for those who inject drugs, and prevention of transmission through optimal antiretroviral therapy.
UNAIDS (www.unaids.org/en) has set an ambitious goal to help end the Aids epidemic by 2030. Their 90-90-90 programme hopes that by 2020, 90 per cent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 per cent will receive uninterrupted HIV treatment (ART) and that 90 per cent of those receiving ART will maintain control of the disease.
According to UNAIDS and WHO, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, intravenous drug users, prisoners and illegal migrants are disproportionately vulnerable and highly at risk of HIV infection. Such HIV-affected populations are already marginalised and therefore less likely to engage with their health systems successfully.
In its efforts to deliver optimal care to persons with HIV, GSK joined Pfizer and Shionogi (a Japanese company) to establish ViiV Healthcare, an independent, global specialist HIV company equipped to move quickly in response to the needs of the HIV community. This enterprise has already launched industry-leading access initiatives to help deliver on WHO/UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals aiming to reach all those who need treatment.
Support for the preparation of this article was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies