10 Inspiring Stories from the Fight against HIV

It can feel like the news is slipping into a never-ending cycle of misery, despair, and suffering as a result of a global pandemic. This coronavirus isn’t the first epidemic humanity has had to deal with. HIV/AIDS has been a terror that can kill for half a century.

The fight against HIV is far from over. HIV has claimed more than 36 million lives to date and continues to kill hundreds of thousands every year. One in five people living with HIV are unaware that they have it. Even though the virus is most prevalent in marginalized communities, it still carries a heavy social stigma.[1]

However, the fight against HIV/AIDS also has many inspiring victories as well as uplifting breakthroughs. Three patients had been cured of the virus as of January 2021. A vaccine is in the works. There are inspiring stories from people all over the globe of people working together to eradicate HIV infection. There is also a lot of work being done to combat stigma.

In these dark times of coronavirus, when the world seems lost and hopeless, here are ten inspiring stories from the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Related: 10 Infectious Diseases That Changed History

10 Gene Editing Helps Cure Mice

Although gene editing is controversial, it could be a vital tool in curing HIV. Researchers discovered a way for mice to get rid of HIV in 2020.

As part of the scientists’ study, HIV-infected mice were given a cocktail of slow-release drugs for four weeks. They were then given a complex gene editing treatment. Both treatments were ineffective. Scientists discovered that HIV can be eliminated if the two treatments are used together. Nineteen of the 23 mice who received both therapies came back HIV-negative.

Howard E Gendelman, University of Nebraska, was closely involved in the research. He described it as “the first time, to my knowledge, that any group has shown viral eradication is possible in a live animal model.”

HIV-positive people can live a relatively normal life by taking antiretroviral medication. These drugs stabilize the condition—but they are not a cure. HIV patients who stop taking their medication would experience a flare-up in their symptoms within a few weeks.[2]

9 Monthly Injections could Replace Pills

People living with HIV take pills as part of their daily life. These pills may soon be gone. Scientists from California have created a monthly injection that keeps the virus at bay. The drugs are injected into the patient’s buttock. The drugs are absorbed into the bloodstream through the muscle fibers. This is a remarkable method. A recent study found that 94% of the participants who received the injection remained stable for two years.

Many people are excited about the injectable therapy, including Mahesh Mahesh Mahalingam (UN health expert). As he told reporters, “It will help remove the challenge of taking tablets every day and significantly improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.”[3]

8 “Dusseldorf Patient” Cured after Bone Marrow Transplant

A patient from Germany was the third person to be cured by HIV after receiving a bone-marrow transplant in 2019. For confidentiality reasons, very little is known about the identity of the “Dusseldorf Patient.” But, when doctors revealed the case at a conference in Seattle, the patient had gone three months without taking medication and was still free of HIV. The scientists examined tissue from the lymph nodes as well as the gut to find evidence of the virus.

A bone marrow donation is an advanced treatment where infected cells can be replaced with healthy cells. Scientists have been aware of the potential of bone marrow transplants since 2007, when “Berlin Patient” Timothy Ray Brown became the first person to be cured of the virus.[4]

7 Protests Against Mbeki’s Denial in South Africa

HIV was rampant in South Africa post-apartheid. Over one and a half million people had been tested positive for the virus by the mid-1990s. The hospitals were filled to capacity with dying patients. Tens of thousands were giving birth to infected children across the country.

In the midst of all this chaos, President Thabo Mabeki decided not to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence. He declared that HIV-positive persons should stop taking their medication. Instead, officials suggested beetroot or garlic as possible treatments. Mbeki also banned mothers infected with the virus from accessing drugs that could prevent them passing it on to their children. Mbeki’s leadership is said to have cost 300,000 people their lives.

But the people of South Africa did not suffer Mbeki’s actions gladly. Protesters took the streets throughout his presidency. South Africans urged the president to stop denying AIDS and face reality. The Treatment Action Campaign, a community group, finally took the matter to court in 2001. The government had to concede defeat after their legal argument. Pregnant women would finally have access to the medication they so desperately need.

The impact on South Africa’s collective health has been astounding. In the decade following the drug’s release, life expectancy has risen by nine years. The child mortality rate has dropped to the floor. Mbeki quit in 2008, making way for a government dedicated to fighting the pandemic. South Africa is still far away from eliminating the virus completely. They are now in a far better position than they were 20 years ago.[5]

6 PrEP Prevents Infection

Prevention is better than cure, as the old saying goes. HIV/AIDS is a serious problem that has no cure. Researchers have made amazing strides over the past fifteen years in developing PrEP medication which they claim reduces the chance of getting HIV to nearly zero.

PrEP is a daily program that provides protection against the spread of the virus to at-risk individuals. The drugs were initially restricted to certain groups, such as sex workers and injectors. The World Health Organization recommended that PrEP should be available to everyone at risk for infection after promising trials. PrEP is now being offered in countries such as the United States, Brazil, and Thailand. Anyone can get PrEP free of charge in Thailand, regardless of their gender or age.[6]

New Zealand Opens 5 HIV-Positive Sperm Banks

In 2019, New Zealand opened the doors to the world’s first HIV-positive sperm bank. Sperm Positive is part a new scheme to lower stigma around the virus. All men who donate to this bank will be HIV positive with an undetectable virus load. This means that the virus cannot be transmitted to the child through their sperm.

Sperm Positive is a collective effort run by three charities—Positive Women Inc, Body Positive, and the New Zealand Aids Foundation. They hope that the project will help broaden people’s horizons about the virus and lessen the social shame attached to it.[7]

4 Brighton’s HIV Test Vending Machine

HIV in Brighton is a serious problem in the English city. It has the highest HIV prevalence in the country, with London excluded. Eight out 1,000 people have tested positive, four times more than the national average. A 2016 study found that nearly one-fifth (or almost half) of those living with HIV in Brighton did not know they had it.

This number is decreasing, however. The city council was the first to set a goal of zero new infections in 2016, and it is still falling.

The council is here to help you reduce infection. installed vending machinesAcross the city, so that people could get HIV testing kits. These machines are the first ever of their kind in the world. The Martin Fisher Foundation installed five machines in venues around Brighton, which are frequented by high-risk groups.

The vending machines are playing a vital role in reducing Brighton’s infection rate. Three of the vending machines were upgraded by the Foundation to full Sexual Health Machines. The machines can be used by locals to obtain STI kits, as well as HIV testing.[8]

Following Brighton’s promising example, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, and Manchester have also pledged to eradicate new infections.

3 Cyclists Aid HIV-Positive Sexual Workers in Zimbabwe

Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on our lives. The pandemic has been a nightmare for HIV-positive sex workers from rural Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s national lockdown has stopped people in remote areas from accessing necessities.

People in Mashava couldn’t get to the nearest clinic when the pandemic struck. Four hundred HIV-positive sex workers were left without medication. Dorcas Mbiri, a female sex worker, found out that she was being turned away and told to stay indoors.

Mbiri and her coworkers decided to organize themselves. They borrowed bicycles so that they could cycle to the nearest clinic every week and collect necessary medication for the villages. The 10km trek (6.2 mile) takes almost three quarters of an hour on poor Zimbabwean roads. It has been a lifeline to Mashava’s sex workers.[9]

2 Women Free of HIV for 12 Years Without Medication

After being tested HIV-negative 12 years after her last medication, a young HIV-positive woman made headlines in 2015. The unnamed woman was first treated with antiretroviral medications as a baby. Her treatment was stopped after six years. One year later, at seven years old, doctors tested her again for the virus and found no trace.

Eleven years later, and now an adult she went back for a second HIV test. The results were shocking to medical professionals. Remarkably, over a decade since her last dose of drugs, HIV had not resurfaced in the young woman’s blood. This was the longest time that a young person without medication has been virus-free.

“There have been other reports of treating infants followed by the stoppage of antiretroviral therapy that have not turned out as well,” explained Dr. Scott Sieg, an expert in infectious disease and HIV. “This case provides new hope.”[10]

1 DNA-rTV, China’s Potential HIV Vaccine

Researchers in China have created a potential vaccine for HIV. This vaccine could be used to protect the public against the virus in the future. In 2019, DNA-rTV, a potential vaccine, completed its second phase in clinical trials. The results have been positive so far.

DNA-rTV is an acronym. replicating viral vector vaccine. This means that vaccine particles can reproduce. These new particles can then enter cells and produce antigens. Because they cause the immune system to produce antibodies, antigens are crucial for immunization. These antibodies will be vital in fighting off the virus if the person is ever infected.

It is difficult to develop a HIV vaccine. Scientists warn that the vaccine is not likely to be available anytime soon. Jin Cong, director of China’s AIDS Prevention Office, has warned people not to get their hopes up too quickly.

“In general, all vaccines require a long process from development to the market,” Cong explained. “It is even more difficult for the AIDS vaccine, which is determined by the characteristics of the AIDS virus itself.”[11]

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