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The HIV epidemic 40 years on: 5 essential reads on breakthroughs, blind spots and new challenges

The HIV epidemic 40 years on: 5 essential reads on breakthroughs, blind spots and new challenges

IN June 1981 The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a rare form of pneumonia in young gay men in California. Although they didn’t know it at the time, these were the first documented cases of AIDS. In 1983, HIV – the virus responsible for AIDS – was isolated by virologists from the Institut Pasteur. Since then 85.6 million people have become infected with HIV and 40.4 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses. In the early years, the disease was known as the “gay plague” because it only seemed to affect homosexual men. We now know that…
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Zimbabwean women scientists making a remarkable impact in the battle against HIV

Zimbabwean women scientists making a remarkable impact in the battle against HIV

WHEN Dr Wadzanai Samaneka began working as a newly graduated doctor, patients who contracted AIDS knew they were going to die. It was a scary time to be a doctor - and an even scarier time to be a sex worker. However, in Zimbabwe and many other countries in the region, AIDS was prevalent everywhere. “During my years as a medical student and later as an internist, the diagnosis of HIV infection was like a life sentence. There were no Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in Zimbabwe and patients would simply be discharged for home-based care. Not only were patients dying, but…
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The outsize contribution of the women scientists of Zimbabwe to the fight against HIV

The outsize contribution of the women scientists of Zimbabwe to the fight against HIV

WHEN Dr Wadzanai Samaneka began working as a newly graduated doctor, patients who contracted AIDS knew they were going to die. It was a scary time to be a doctor - and an even scarier time to be a sex worker. However, in Zimbabwe and in many other countries in the region, AIDS was prevalent everywhere. “During my years as a medical student and later as an internist, the diagnosis of HIV infection was like a life sentence. There were no Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) in Zimbabwe and patients would simply be discharged for home-based care. Not only were patients dying,…
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OPINION: Forty years of AIDS – Justice and equality remain key to quelling a still-potent epidemic

OPINION: Forty years of AIDS – Justice and equality remain key to quelling a still-potent epidemic

EDWIN CAMERON TODAY, marks World AIDS Day. The past four decades have yielded enormous medical and scientific progress – but death and stigma remain. Many elude testing or die in shame, treatment does not reach all who need it, and inequality impedes our global response. I can write this because life unexpectedly afforded me survival from AIDS. Around Easter 1985, I became infected with HIV. There was no treatment: HIV meant certain death. Like many, I kept my HIV status a secret. I hoped to escape death. No. Twelve years later, AIDS felled my body. I became terribly ill. But my privileges…
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COVID-19, big breakthroughs and missed targets

COVID-19, big breakthroughs and missed targets

LINDA-GAIL BEKKER, Professor of medicine and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town THIS year saw the first ever AIDS conference to be held entirely online. The 23rd International AIDS Conference, the largest convergence of HIV researchers, implementers, advocates and policy people, should have taken place in Oakland/San Francisco in July 2020. But amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the International Conference Committee had to switch to a virtual platform just four months before the planned date. Staging this complex conference in all time zones with fair…
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Millions of people are on treatment for HIV: why are so many still dying?

Millions of people are on treatment for HIV: why are so many still dying?

TWENTY years ago treatment for HIV was a rare luxury in South Africa. Exorbitant costs and President Thabo Mbeki’s government’s fierce opposition to providing antiretroviral treatment (ART) kept it out of the public sector. GILLES VAN CUTSEM, Honorary Research Associate, Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research, University of Cape Town They were terrible days. Many lives were lost. The environment has changed remarkably since then. The turning point came in 2004 when, after four years of struggle, led by the Treatment Action Campaign, the government begrudgingly agreed to start providing ART. Antiretroviral coverage of people with HIV in South…
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‘A shot can end the stigma’: African women pin hopes on anti-HIV jab

‘A shot can end the stigma’: African women pin hopes on anti-HIV jab

NITA BHALLA  KENYAN sex worker Silvia does not much like the large, oblong-shaped blue pill she takes with her porridge every morning. While the daily tablets of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drastically cut her risk of getting HIV, they bring with it stigma and even violence due to the common misconception that the drug is taken by people who already have the virus. "I was beaten up by a client who found the pills in my handbag. He thought I had AIDS and accused me of giving it to him and hit me on the head with bar stool. I ended…
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Battles won – and lost – against AIDS hold valuable lessons for managing COVID-19

Battles won – and lost – against AIDS hold valuable lessons for managing COVID-19

WORLD AIDS Day this year finds us still deep amid another pandemic – COVID-19. LINDA-GAIL BEKKER, Professor of medicine and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town The highly infectious novel coronavirus has swept across the world, devastating health systems and laying waste to economies as governments introduced drastic measures to contain the spread. Not since the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1990s have countries faced such a common health threat. This explains why UNAIDS has selected the theme “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility” for this year’s World…
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COVID-19 disruption causing many deaths from TB, AIDS in poorest countries, fund says

COVID-19 disruption causing many deaths from TB, AIDS in poorest countries, fund says

EMMA FARGE HUNDREDS of thousands of people will die of tuberculosis left untreated because of disruption to healthcare systems in poor countries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global aid fund said. In a few of the world's poorest countries, excess deaths from AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) could even exceed those from the coronavirus itself, said the head of the Geneva-based aid body, known as the Global Fund. The Fund's annual report for 2020, released on Wednesday, showed that the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis in countries where it operates fell by 19%. A decline of 11% was…
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‘AIDS Patient Zero was not African’

‘AIDS Patient Zero was not African’

HUGO GREENHALGH AS World Health Organization scientists comb the Chinese city of Wuhan for the first cases of the coronavirus, a Canadian infectious disease expert believes he has found the source of another pandemic, HIV/AIDS, more than a century earlier. In a revised edition of his 2011 book "The Origin of AIDS", published last month, Jacques Pepin questions the "cut hunter" theory that the blood of a chimpanzee likely infected someone with the simian variant of HIV in Cameroon in the early 20th century. He now believes it is likely that the first instance of the zoonotic transmission of the…
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