New HIV diagnoses have dropped by more than half since the introduction of , HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy for HIV patients. What does this mean? It suggests that the HAART treatment is effective at reducing the community “viral load”, or levels of the AIDS virus in the blood, and decreasing the new number of HIV diagnoses per year, in the population where the study was conducted, Canada.
So, what causes HAART helps to reduce the viral load? It helps to stop the AIDS virus from replicating. This break in the replicating chain allows the immune system to have the opportunity to regain it’s strength and the patient may then go into a type of remission. In some cases, the patient’s T-cell count may drop so that they are moved back from an AIDS, to a HIV diagnosis, although HAART does not have the ability to cure HIV (or, remove the virus from the blood).
The study was run from 1996-2009 and for every 100 patients placed on HAART, new HIV diagnoses fell by 3%. Additionally, as HAART use increased by 547% new HIV diagnoses fell by 52%. Also, other STD rates, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, fell during the period when HAART usage increased.
Also, a new medication, not yet licensed by the FDA, is showing promise in preventing HIV in women. Tenofovir is an anti-HIV drug found in a new vaginal gel, which can be applied locally in hopes of preventing the spread of HIV. Tenofovir is already available orally to help slow the spread of HIV, but in topical form the vaginal gel absorbed into the cells is directly targeted by HIV.
In a study in South Africa close to 900 women were followed, half used the gel and half used a placebo (inactive) gel. Additionally, they were counseled to use condoms or another means of HIV prevention.
When compared to the placebo group, 39% fewer women in the Tenofovir vaginal gel group contracted HIV infections. Also, those who said they used the HIV-preventing gel more than 80% of the time were found to have 54% fewer HIV infections, than women who used the placebo gel, with the same diligence.
The study also found that the gel reduced the risk of contracting the herpes virus that causes genital warts, which can lead to some kinds of cervical cancer. What’s more, is that one STD increases a person’s risk for HIV. So, reducing the risk for any STD, in turn, reduces the risk for HIV.
A virologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Dezzutti, commented, “It’s refreshing and good news. A 54% protection rate in people who have used the gel consistently is excellent.” The use of the vaginal gel containing Tenofovir almost cut the chances of contracting the HIV virus in half, which is essential in cultures where women have little to no say regarding the use of condoms, such as Africa, where there is an AIDS pandemic (see chart).
However, the National Institutes of Health representative, Dr. Fauci reminds that for the gel to be licensed in the U.S., it must show at least 80% effectiveness. This could possibly be achieved by increasing the amount of the active ingredient, Tenofovir, in the gel; or, increasing the consistency of the usage by the patients.