Last Sunday’s AIDS Walk served as an enlightening, and perhaps haunting, reminder to many about the prevalent pandemic. Despite the ample attention, money and effort being poured into generating awareness about HIV, it continues to be a destructive presence: 7,500 new people are infected with HIV every day, and AIDS remains the fourth leading cause of death globally.
Clearly, battling the onslaught of AIDS is a struggle for our generation.
With the announcement of relative success for a preliminary AIDS vaccine, one would expect a celebratory response from the international community. Such a pre-emptive action would significantly lower the risk of contracting the disease before it even takes root and subsequently minimize the number of infected people.
Results published Tuesday from a six-year study — a collaboration between entities such as the Thai Health Ministry and the United States military — tested an AIDS vaccine on more than 16,000 volunteers, who reported a lowered risk of infection by 31.2 percent. The study was the first hint that a successful vaccine for the disease was even possible. However, a simultaneous analysis was released citing that the success was only “modest” and the trend of the protection wasn’t statistically significant.
The two analyses, particularly the second one, were met with a lackluster, less-than-sanguine response from critics, who were overwhelmingly doubtful of the vaccine’s success. Many already have qualms about such a discovery — as if a cure were too good to be true given our current resources and means.
Attitudes like these, tainted by pessimism rather than hope, unfortunately undermine further research to find an effective AIDS vaccine. In fact, spending for vaccine research and development has dropped 10 percent since last year and has been eclipsed by efforts for treatment instead.
Whether it’s through governments, non-governmental organizations or private coalitions, innovative action needs to be taken to battle AIDS. Despite the cost that vaccine research entails, it ought to be pursued. Reliance solely on treatment surely cannot be the solution.
Although treatment is clearly helpful and a source of hope for those infected, it only allays the onslaught of the pandemic and doesn’t make any strides to abolish it.
Programs such as the (RED) campaign and the World Health Organization’s “3 by 5” Initiative are commendable for their efforts to treat those afflicted with HIV, but these short-term accomplishments won’t do as much to directly benefit posterity as a preventative cure would. And for our generation, mere treatment doesn’t stop the spread.
“We, for the first time, have evidence of protection,” Dr. Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, told the Associated Press. “And the nitty-gritty [arguments] to me don’t matter a damn.”
If a scientist can disregard setbacks like this, the general public should follow suit.
Believing that the AIDS vaccine is impossible engenders an attitude of inaction. But, if we “imagine a world without AIDS,” as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative supports, the optimism just may parlay into something concrete, useful and lifesaving. We’re selling ourselves short by not entertaining the idea of an AIDS vaccine, and it might serve us well to maintain some sort of optimism when it comes to discovering a cure for the disease.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration (international relations).