Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most serious form of infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a pathogen that attacks the immune system. It affects 38 million people worldwide and each year around 650,000 people die from causes related to HIV, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).
It has now become a chronic infection. And with proper treatment, a person with HIV has the same quality and life expectancy as a person without the virus. That is why it is essential that people can know their serology in order to access treatment. And it is precisely the reason why UNAIDS proposes the following motto for this December 1: Equality now! And it urges us to address the inequalities that are holding back the end of HIV and AIDS.
What are the advances in new treatments for the infection
41 years have passed since the first AIDS cases were found in the United States in 1981. At the time, very little was known about this virus, the diagnosis of which was expected to be a death sentence, because no treatments were available and the cause was unknown.
However, thanks to advances in treatment and medication, and campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus, people with HIV have managed to lead healthy lives. These advances have had different stages and it is important to know them to improve the understanding of this disease and contribute to its fight.
- 1983: French researchers from Professor Luc Montagnier's team were the first to announce the isolation of the acquired immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS) in the journal Science.
- 1987: Zidovudine or AZT (Retrovir) is the first antiretroviral to receive approval. As an antiretroviral treatment it was expensive and highly toxic. However, the pharmaceutical industry continued to work to find drugs to improve the health of HIV patients.
- 1991: FDA approves ddI (Didanosine, Videx).
- 1992: ddC (zalcitabine, Hivid) is approved.
- 1994: d4T (stavudine, Zerit). New antiretrovirals from the same family as AZT receive approval for use as monotherapy or in combination. One of the first dual therapies is that made up of AZT and ddC (zalcitabine, Hivid), another highly toxic drug that has a relatively short life.
- 1995: FDA approval of the first protease inhibitor (PI) — saquinavir (Invirase) — marks an important change in HIV treatment. The use of the drug, in combination with two NRTIs, manages to reduce the viral load and produce notable increases in CD4 counts. In 1996, hopeful results in the treatment of HIV were announced and it was the combination of these retrovirals to stop the progression of the disease. They were years full of optimism, due to the rapid recovery of many people with the syndrome.
- 2002: The use of rapid tests is approved, offering results with 99.6% accuracy in just 20 minutes.
- 2007: The first trials of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) were carried out. This treatment offered the possibility of preventing an infection, by taking the daily medications. Using this treatment consistently will reduce the risk of contracting HIV during sexual intercourse by 90%.
- 2012: The case of Timothy Brown was known, who lived with HIV and after receiving a bone marrow transplant for leukemia that he suffered concomitantly, completely lost the presence of the virus in his blood. It was the first case in history of a person who got rid of the disease.
- 2013: The Gardel study, carried out by Fundación Huésped, found that the use of two drugs instead of three in HIV treatment was equally effective. The research was published by the British magazine The Lancet.
- 2017: For the first time, more than half of AIDS patients worldwide are treated, UNAIDS said.
- 2019: Scientists managed to get a person, identified only as "the London patient", to overcome HIV infection. It is about a man who shows no traces of HIV after 19 months. The experts who presented the long-term finding at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, in Seattle, are cautious when speaking of a cure, referring to "a long remission."
2022: The first injectable long-acting antiretroviral treatment for HIV:
This is cabotegravir + rilpivirine (developed by ViiV Healthcare and Janssen). An innovative long-acting therapy through an intramuscular injection that will have to be administered every two months and that may improve aspects of the patient's life quality.
Its main advantage, compared to the antiretrovirals that are currently administered, is that it reduces the frequency of doses and the burden of taking daily oral pills. According to some studies, 60% of patients fear forgetting to take their pills and 40% also believe that medication promotes stigma.
An early diagnosis allows starting treatment to control the infection and prevent the development of AIDS. It has been achieved that, since 1997, new infections by the virus have been reduced to 52%, and cases of death related to the virus have decreased to 47%.