Prizm News / April 1, 2019 / By Bob Vitale
The AIDS cure announced in March has less promise for ending the disease than a new campaign called U=U.
By Bob Vitale
At the end of “Longtime Companion,” a 1989 film that broke ground as the first major feature to tell a story about the impact of AIDS on our community, three friends who’ve lost much of the joy in their lives walk along the beach on Fire Island.
“I just want to be there, if they ever do find a cure,” Willy tells his partner, Fuzzy, and their friend, Lisa. “Can you imagine what it would be like?” Fuzzy asks. “Like the end of World War II,” Lisa answers.
As they stop and ponder, dozens of people start rushing over the dune and the somber scene becomes joyous. It’s the day they’re dreaming of: a celebration and reunion with everyone they’ve lost.
It’s been 30 years since “Longtime Companion,” and we’re still imagining that day—although we probably don’t picture ourselves anymore with mustaches and pleated Dockers shorts like Willy does.
So why didn’t a news story on March 4 spark parties in the streets—or at least a round of specialty cocktails?
A man in London, according to the journal Nature, was cured of HIV after receiving bone marrow from a donor with a genetic mutation that stops HIV from entering certain blood cells. The New York Times reported that while scientists were publicly using the phrase long-term remission, they privately were using the word cure.
“In the early days, we naively hoped and rallied and believed that a vaccine and a cure were not that far in the future,” Equitas Health President and CEO (and my boss) Bill Hardy told me when I asked him about the
significance of the latest report.
“So the science and the possibility of new medical advances are enticing,” he said. “However, the mechanism of the London patient’s cure—if it is permanent—was bone-marrow transplant, which is not scalable or accessible to the tens of millions of persons now living with HIV.”
Hardy is hopeful that this latest achievement at the very least will move the ball forward on treatment. But his greater hope lies in a relatively new campaign called U=U that has the power to address so many of the other
hurdles in our way.
U=U stands for “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable.” It’s a way of remembering the proven science that people whose viral load is undetectable and who take their medications as prescribed will not pass HIV on to their sexual partners.
Think about what that means.
U=U offers a powerful incentive for people living with HIV to start and stay on treatment in order to keep themselves and their partners healthy. U=U can dismantle the fear, stigma and shaming that often still follow people living with HIV. And that, in turn, can encourage people to get tested, know their status, and start and stay on treatment.
“I didn’t think in my lifetime I’d see the type of advances we’ve made,” Hardy said, referring to viral suppression and PrEP, the prevention regimen that reduces the risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent. “With these two breakthroughs, we have everything medically that we need now in our toolbox to beat the pandemic. We can keep people from becoming infected. We can help those living with HIV remain healthy. We can stop transmission. This isn’t a perfect world, but it’s a very, very good one.”
We just need to make sure everyone has access to these advances. Nearly 39,000 Americans contracted HIV in 2017, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only half of HIV-positive Americans have achieved viral suppression. One in seven who has HIV doesn’t know it.
All of these issues are addressed with money raised during AIDS Walk Ohio. The annual event is scheduled for Saturday, April 13 at McFerson Commons in Columbus’ Arena District.
Equitas Health uses money raised through the AIDS Walk to boost prevention, treatment and educational efforts across Ohio. Money also goes to Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s HIV clinic and Ohio State University’s AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.
Visit aidswalkohio.com to learn how you can participate, volunteer or donate to efforts to end HIV/AIDS in Ohio.
That celebration is getting closer every day.
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.