By: CDR. Steve L. Morin, R.N., B.S.N.
World AIDS Day has been observed in the United States on December 1 since 1995. When I look back at early World AIDS Day observances, I remember them as a way of raising awareness of the men, women and children who had no advocates, no representation, no medicines, and practically no hope. They eventually died from the disease early in the epidemic.
In the beginning, World AIDS Day was an important platform for the HIV/AIDS community to help raise awareness among the many people who had never known or even met anyone living with HIV/AIDS. In those early years, the focus was on finding a treatment and keeping those diagnosed with the disease alive.
Last year marked 30 years since AIDS was first reported in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR), emerging as a permanent part of our lives. Today, when I think about World AIDS Day, I think of it as a day to acknowledge how far we have actually come in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We’ve come so far—not only in treatment, but also in preventing new infections, and reducing or eliminating the stigma associated with this disease.
The Food and Drug Administration supports the fight against HIV/AIDS by promoting medical innovation, protecting the blood supply, and reviewing and regulating new and existing medical products, including devices used in prevention, such as condoms and medical gloves. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, scientists and many others at FDA have worked hard in 2012 to make sure that there are safe and effective medical products and devices available to fight HIV/AIDS. I am happy to say that this year there were four major advances in the battle against HIV.
- Truvada is the first HIV drug approved for prophylactic (preventive) use. It has been shown to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of the HIV virus to uninfected adults.
- OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is the first rapid home-use oral HIV test kit that does not require sending a sample to a laboratory for analysis. This test has the potential to identify previously undiagnosed HIV infections, especially if used by those unlikely to visit a doctor’s office or clinic.
- Stribild is the first HIV medicine to combine four separate drugs and is the third HIV drug that can be taken once daily.
- The number of antiretroviral drugs tentatively approved or approved for use under the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has surpassed 150. PEPFAR is a program to treat those infected with HIV/AIDS in countries that lack the tools needed to fight the AIDS epidemic.
So today, as World AIDS Days approaches, I ask that you take a moment to remember the combined effort of patients, researchers, industry, FDA and other government agencies contributing to the successes in fighting HIV/AIDS. There are currently 36 approved therapies for treating HIV/AIDS in the United States. As new therapies are added to the list of treatments, patients’ quality of life has improved, with fewer side effects and simpler therapeutic regimens that make adhering to therapy easier. People living with HIV are now able to focus on life rather than death. Until there is a cure, we will continue to work together for an AIDS-free world.
CDR. Steve L. Morin, R.N., B.S.N., is a Health Programs Coordinator in FDA’s Office of Special Health Issues