AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) is one of the most serious health conditions to have affected people globally, and there are 2.1 million people living with the condition in India alone. It is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)which affects the T lymphocytes in the body. The infection can spread from one person to another through sharing of needles, blood, or from unprotected sex. It can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
Though there are no signs at the initial stages, an infected person can experience flu-like symptoms such as like fever, joint pains, body ache and enlarged lymph glands later. As the condition progresses, it weakens the immune system and disposes the person to comorbidities such as tuberculosis, etc. The symptoms that appear later in the body are referred to as AIDS and the condition is diagnosed with a blood test.HIV/AIDS is now a chronic manageable disease which makes it imperative to test and treat and not wait till the disease manifests. The treatment is totally free within the government setup in India. People with STIs should seek prompt treatment and avoid sexual intercourse or practice safe sex.HIV-positive people may remain asymptomatic but can still pass on the virus to others.
Ever since the HIV was discovered and identified as the cause of AIDS, scientists have been on the hunt for a cure, which is proving to be elusive. Other than the anti-retro viral treatment (ART) which helps in slowing down the replication of the virus, there is no cure or vaccine for the condition yet.The HIV virus remains concealed in the reservoir cell.
Due to this, the infection, which is in remission with ART, becomes active again as soon as the latter is discontinued. Killing these latent reservoirs is therefore essential to achieving cure. It was to raise awareness about the urgent need for a vaccine and on testing and prevention that the 18th of May every year is observed as the World AIDS Vaccine Day. It focuses on raising awareness, safe sex practices, discouraging needle sharing and early testing of those at risk. Given that they act by stimulating the body’s immune system, the need of the hour is to develop a safe and effective vaccine which can a long way in protecting people from getting infected with HIV.
Even a partially effective vaccine can help in reducing the transmission of HIV and preventing the epidemic. Despite ongoing research, a vaccine is yet to be discovered due to challenges such as rapid rate of genetic mutation of the virus, inability of antibodies to effectively kill it, and the danger of replication due to the use of weakened virus in the vaccine. It is clear that overcoming these challenges will require a multi-pronged strategy before a sterilizing vaccine is finally developed against the condition.
People with AIDS still face much discrimination and stigma in the society. Although, India’s treatment programme is an example to the world of what can be achieved through committed collaboration, there is still a long way to go. Much has been learnt from the past it is important to continue building on the strong foundation created.
Rakesh Kumar Maury is lead scientist, Redcliffe Life Sciences