This week’s International AIDS Conference in Washington – expected to draw upwards of 25,000 attendees – is the annual meeting’s first American appearance in over two decades. And as our David Brown writes, almost “everything” is different this year from where things stood in 1990.
Back then, when the International AIDS Conference came to San Francisco, “AIDS was an almost uniformly fatal disease [and] the one AIDS drug worked poorly.” Flash forward to 2012:
In 2012, HIV infection is a dangerous but treatable disease. Many people will live with it for decades and die of other ailments. It is less feared and stigmatized, although many sufferers still live at society’s margins. There are now two-dozen drugs to fight the virus. They are expensive but available to nearly everyone who needs them in wealthy countries and taken by more than 8 million people in poor ones.
The United Nations, meanwhile, is able to count up what exactly these advancements have meant for public health. Their data, graphed here by the Economist, shows a steadily rising death toll in the early 1990s. It peaked in 2005, with 2.3 million deaths internationally, and has been on the decline ever since. There were 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths in 2011, 1.2 million of which were in Africa:
That decline has coincided with a rapid increase in people receiving antiretroviral therapy, which suppress the HIV virus. The number of people with access to such medication increased by 20 percent between 2010 and 2011 alone. UNAIDS estimate that antiretroviral therapy has saved 15 million years of life internationally since it debuted in 2003.
More recently, researchers have found new medications that appear to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. The FDA approved that drug, sold in the United States as Truvada, for use in America just last week. Researchers continue work on finding an AIDS vaccine but it has, so far proved elusive.