Trinidad: HIV victims living as long as those not infected

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Trinidad: HIV victims living as long as those not infected

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the Nobel Laureate who discovered the human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) in 1983, has said it is a mistake for countries to have national acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) programmes.

Delivering an open lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus on Friday evening, she said focus should be on holistic health.

She did not specifically mention T&T.

However, government has enough national AIDS programmes to warrant the existence of a National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) in the Office of the Prime Minister, distinct from the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Unit of the Ministry of Health.

The theme of Barre-Sinoussi’s lecture was ‘HIV-AIDS the Challenges of the 21st Century’. From the get-go, she said: “The first challenge is what I call implementation of a very efficient public health programme by strengthening the assistance and services, by making a better link between prevention, care and treatment services. For that we need, really in all the countries in the world, to have policy which integrate all the aspects: prevention, care, treatment; but also to integrate in their policy not only HIV. In my opinion that has been a mistake to focus on HIV and to have national AIDS programmes, for example. We need to have national health programmes integrating all the aspects altogether. We need to have innovation across a continuum of care and optimise the care package for early testing and treating.”

Thanks to successful ongoing and historic experiments on monkeys, the pace at which people are becoming newly infected with HIV has been trending downward, she said, by approximately 38 per cent since 2001. Advances in medicine, treatment and awareness have allowed persons living with HIV, approximately 37 million in the world today, to have a life expectancy almost equal to that of persons without the virus, she said.

“So why is it still important to find a cure?” she asked. About 70 per cent of HIV patients surveyed in Europe, she said, want “not to be anxious about the future anymore, not to deal with stigma anymore, (and) not to be afraid of infecting others.”

‘Monkey models’

Asked to elaborate on the ‘monkey model’ and the ethics of killing animals so that HIV-positive humans can live longer, she said: “One monkey model is Asian macaques because the Asian macaques, when we infect them (with) SIV, a virus from monkeys in Africa, they develop AIDS, and very similar disease, as in humans, and scientists have also constructed what we call SHIV, an SIV virus in which we integrate fragments of HIV, so it’s to be as close as possible to the human system, and we have a very good model of AIDS, and this model is very much used for cure and vaccine research.”

She said there is another ‘monkey model’ whereby scientists use the African green monkey from the West of the continent. She said about 40 per cent of that ubiquitous monkey in Africa naturally acquire SIV and “we know that they never develop the disease (AIDS), and we are trying to understand why they never develop the disease, so it’s a very interesting model to try to understand why they do not develop the disease.”

She said: “We are learning a lot from them, especially studies that are important for cure.” Though not a clip from Planet of the Apes nor Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Master Splinter, she added that other scientists use “humanized mice” but that was not her preference because one learns from those models, but not as much as from monkeys.

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