HSPH Forum To Explore HIV/AIDS Treatment As Prevention

Since the AIDS crisis began in the early 80s, the medical community has struggled to understand how best to stop – and eventually end – HIV transmission. On December 1, The Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health will present TREATMENT AS PREVENTION: Can We Treat Our Way Out of the AIDS Epidemic? as part of their Andelot Series on Current Science Controversies. The discussion will feature a number of HIV/AIDS experts, including Dr. Kenneth Mayer, Medical Research Director and Co-Chair of The Fenway Institute.

With no cure or vaccine in sight, HIV/AIDS remains a devastating epidemic – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 70% of new global HIV infections occur. In recent years, researchers have proposed using drug treatments to decrease new HIV transmissions to the point where the epidemic eventually dies out. This concept requires changes in international standards around when anti-retroviral therapy begins and who receives it. The speakers at this forum will explore whether “treatment as prevention” could prove to be the strategy to finally end the AIDS epidemic.

According to Dr. Mayer, the concept of HIV treatment as prevention comes from studies which show that HIV-infected individuals who have suppressed the virus in their bodies by taking highly active antiretroviral therapy are very unlikely to transmit HIV to their sexual partners. “Many public health experts have lauded this added benefit of treatment and some have seen it as way to substantially decrease the spread of new HIV infections,” he explained.

Dr. Mayer cautions that there are a number of medical and cultural challenges that need to be addressed before treatment as prevention can be a fully-implemented practice worldwide. First off, all HIV-positive people need to know their status. Then, HIV patients must have universal access to culturally-sensitive medical care, as well as have access to medication and clinical monitoring. Finally, people living with HIV must be willing to consistently take medication daily – even when they are not experiencing symptoms.

“Each of these issues are addressable, but each one requires commitment, resources, and high levels of community education,” Dr. Mayer said. “Getting from the nice expression ‘treatment as prevention’ to an initiative that has lasting public health impact will take time, but the use of antiretroviral medication for prevention offers a new source of hope in addressing the global HIV pandemic.”

TREATMENT AS PREVENTION: Can We Treat Our Way Out of the AIDS Epidemic? will be presented in collaboration with PRI’s The World & WGBH. The forum will be held on Monday, December 1 from 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM at The Leadership Studio, 10th Floor Kresge Building, 677 Huntington Ave., Boston. To attend, please RSVP to theforum@hsph.harvard.edu.

Those who can’t make the event in person can still participate digitally. The public is welcome to submit comments and questions for the experts to the Community Discussion page, as well as watch the discussion live on The Forum’s Treatment As Prevention web page. The event will also be live tweeted by @ForumHSPH. Followers can tweet questions and comments using the hashtag #TreatmentasPrevention2014.

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