The Failure to Find a Vaccine
Last February, David Baltimore, Nobel laureate, and president of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) had some very bleak words to share, “We have been trying to make an HIV vaccine since the day HIV was discovered. In 1984 we were told that as the virus had been found, a vaccine should be just around the corner,” he stated to a group participating in the yearly AAAS conference in Boston. Baltimore noted that scientists persist in predicting a vaccine within a decade, but that they have made this prediction every year since 1984. He feels that even now, the vaccine is still a decade away from discovery.
The latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave a depressing spin to these words as the approximate figures relating to new HIV infections in the United States rose to 40% per year over the past decade. Over half of these new infections were found in gay and bisexual men; African-Americans were found to have seven times the risk of getting a new infection as compared to Whites, with Latinos contracting the infection three times more often. The figures for HIV and AIDS in the third world are even more frightening.
While the past 25 years of medical research have failed to produce an HIV vaccine, a cure seems to be every bit as out of reach. While HIV can kill specific immune cells, it can also remain dormant within the gastrointestinal tract, within certain tissues, and within the central nervous system. The virus then lies in wait, looking for a way to break out and attack the body full on. Finding a way to effect the total eradication of the infection is always just out of the grasp of the scientific community.
Because of this, the campaign for sexual hygiene remains the great white hope in the world's fight against HIV/AIDS. Educating the public about safe sex and condom distribution programs prevent HIV/AIDS every bit as well as a vaccine and also serve to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Epidemiologists have also concluded that circumcision can lead to a reduction in the risk of transmitting HIV by up to 60%.
Then again, protease inhibitors and other HIV drugs have changed the virus from a death sentence to a lengthy, but controllable situation. One treatment protocol known as HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) is quite effective in reducing the levels of the virus in the body, making the risk of transmission almost nil. Due to this success, scientists are now looking into the benefit of treating high risk groups with such drugs before they are exposed to the virus.
The upshot is that the scientific community has a lot of great ideas to explore in their fight against HIV, but the funding is not always in abundant supply or focused in the right direction. Some medical researchers feel that public health policy is not crafted in favor of finding the funding to eradicate HIV/AIDS