Prevention Still the Best Medicine: three questions for Davey Smith about HIV
From the Berlin Patient to the recent approval by the FDA of the drug Truvada for prevention of AIDS, the tide seems to be turning in the now 30-year long fight against HIV/AIDS. For many people living with HIV it is no longer a death sentence but a manageable disease. But the battle isn’t over yet. A recent paper in The Lancet reports that cases of drug-resistant HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are on the rise and in the U.S. there are approximately 50,000 new cases of the disease each year.
With the International AIDS Conference back in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years, we’d thought it was the perfect time to ask Davey Smith, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine and recipient of the 2012 Avant-Garde Award for HIV/AIDS research from NIDA three questions about HIV.
Question: What are some of the most effective strategies in helping limit the spread of the HIV virus? Does sex education have an impact?
Answer: I think the most proven effective ways to currently prevent HIV are: condoms, needle exchange, male circumcision, know your HIV status, and receive effective HIV treatment if you are infected. I think sex education should include explanation on all of these issues. People who are informed on the real risks of HIV transmission can make better choices on how they want to reduce their risks.
Q: Needle exchange has proven effective in preventing the spread of HIV amongst drug users and yet these programs remain taboo. How do you tackle prevention in these high risks groups when effective programs like needle exchange are often not supported and in some communities are illegal?
A: This is one of those situations where a scientist must also be an activist. Research cannot just end when the paper is published. We sometimes must educate the public and those who make the laws about why programs like syringe exchange are needed.
Q: Are you optimistic that we’ll see a cure for HIV/AIDS in the next 5 years or does prevention remain our best hope?
A: I go to work every day with the hope and drive for two goals- a cure and a vaccine for HIV. I think I will see both of these things accomplished in my lifetime, but probably not in five years. In the mean time we must continue our prevention efforts.
Photo: HIV particles on a cell by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego