HIV (and AIDS) is one of the most feared infections since the smallpox pandemic because not only is it incurable but without testing, it can lie dormant for years, threatening your immune system and spreading to others through sexual fluids and blood. According to the World Health Organization, AIDS-related diseases killed 1.2 million people in 2014. There has been a lot of progress in the treatment of HIV/AIDS to the point that some HIV+ people become undetectable, significantly reducing the chance of developing AIDS or transmitting to a partner. We have also seen a lot of progress in the development of other forms of prevention beyond barriers, such as PEP and PrEP. Unfortunately, as fast as we develop new drugs to treat and prevent infections, the virus is mutating and developing resistance, requiring new drugs.
The key to eradicating HIV for good is a vaccine, just as the smallpox vaccine eradicated one of the most deadly epidemics of the last 500 years. A biomedical researcher is on the front edge of eradicating AIDS forever – his vaccine will be tested on humans. As many of you know, I myself lost my own daughter to a 20-year battle against HIV/AIDS, something I hope no other mothers or fathers ever have to bear in their lifetime. I am still working on the memoir about her life, and the aftermath it has created for me and our family. I also hope to spread the message that HIV is 100% preventable and that being a parent of a child with HIV/AIDS has made me more compassionate than ever about saving lives from this horrific disease. As a mother who has lived through the entire epidemic since the mid 1980s in New York City, an epicenter of its prevalence, I can say that it takes great courage and strength to face this, but we must carry on and make meaning from it all. Let us pray that the threat of HIV/AIDS is finally a distant memory in this world with new vaccines and treatments that really work to make this a lifelong manageable condition.