HIV has come a long way in the over 30 years of its existence. Today living with HIV is a very different experience from when it was first discovered. Advances in HIV prevention, treatment and care means that the millions of people living with HIV (PLHIV) can now live longer and healthier lives.
Yet, despite these advances, PLHIV continue to face unique challenges. HIV stigma continues to persist, affecting those living with the virus as well as their support networks.
We need to work collectively, as a community, to devise ways to address HIV stigma and discrimination. Today is World Aids Day, the annual global milestone dedicated to raising awareness and showing support for PLHIV. This year we mark its 30th anniversary with a universal theme dubbed ‘Know Your Status’.
Knowing your status is the entry gate to effectively tackling HIV. HIV is preventable and treatable, and knowing your status is the first step to addressing it. Testing is the only way to inform individuals about their HIV status, as most people living with HIV show no symptoms of the disease. UNAIDS estimates that 9.4 million people globally, translating to 1 in 4 PLHIV, are not aware of their status.
Early diagnosis of HIV, enrolment into HIV care and treatment, as well as adherence to prescribed treatment are essential in reducing mortality and morbidity. Effective treatment is not only beneficial for the HIV positive individual, but also plays a major role in prevention of HIV transmission. This is because when effective treatment lowers the level of HIV in an individual’s blood to a level where the viral load cannot be detected, this individual cannot transmit the virus to others sexually. This is commonly referred to in HIV prevention, as ‘U=U’ or ‘Undetectable equals Untransmittable’.
It is imperative that we look at the full HIV picture. Healthcare management takes a 360 approach, and HIV is no different. We need concerted efforts as we consider the broad spectrum in HIV care and treatment - from testing to diagnosis, treatment and optimal care - with the goal of ending the epidemic.
This builds on an ongoing global commitment to tackle the 90:90:90 goals that aim to stop the spread of HIV and lead to its eradication, by ensuring that 90 per cent of PLHIV know their status; of those, 90 per cent are on antiretroviral therapy; and 90 per cent on therapy achieve viral suppression2. Also paramount, as we consider a holistic approach of optimal HIV care, is the fourth 90 that is quality of life. Understanding the challenges and needs for PLHIV and their support networks, is part of the solution to improve quality of life.
As a global community, we are making good progress towards achieving these goals and attaining effective HIV care. Through partnerships, efforts to remove the barriers to accessing care and treatment and addressing significant unmet needs for achieving holistic HIV care, are achieving great results. There is need to push forward innovation, disrupt the status quo, and work collaboratively to end HIV.
Medical advances have enabled PLHIV to live increasingly longer and healthier lives. Scientists continue to strive to find solutions to limit the impact of life-long therapy on patients, focused on new improved treatments with reduced risk of side effects, and that are less prone to development of drug resistance.
HIV is a virus that thrives on inequality and continues to be a major public health issue, with certain communities disproportionally affected. Gender, age, culture and sexual orientation are all variables that impact people’s individual journeys with HIV. A sustained global response is required to ensure that no person affected by HIV is left behind, regardless of their income or where they are in the world, and that they can achieve the best possible outcomes.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and ViiV Healthcare offer a broad ARV portfolio and a patient-centred approach to research and development. We are committed to addressing the significant gaps and unmet needs for PLHIV and those at risk of HIV. We believe in constantly building and expanding meaningful partnerships with the Ministry of Health, professional associations, healthcare providers and PLHIV, to improve treatment, access and care.
This World AIDS Day show your support to the over 30 years of progress towards ending the HIV epidemic and supporting PLHIV, by getting tested and knowing your status.
- The writer works for GSK/ViiV Healthcare