In a few weeks, the AIDS 2018 meeting will kick off in Amsterdam. It will be the 22nd annual conference, and remains the largest international gathering focused on a single public health issue. This year, one message that will come out loud and clear is that more than 30 years later, AIDS isn’t over.
As International AIDS Society (IAS) President Linda-Gail Bekker said in our recent interview, “We absolutely must subvert the misperception that the AIDS problem is solved.”
This misperception could already be inflicting damage, it turns out. Bekker and others say that it is likely one reason that investment in HIV/AIDS prevention has fallen, a trend documented in a recent report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Yet in some ways, HIV prevention research has never looked so promising.
While the use of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis—a daily antiretroviral to prevent HIV infection—picks up steam, so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies are revolutionizing vaccine research and HIV prevention efforts more broadly. For the first time, researchers are advancing a new class of vaccine candidates specifically engineered to kickstart the induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies that can face up to the extreme genetic variation of the virus and all its circulating forms. In this issue, we detail this exciting progress as well as the advances in developing the broadly neutralizing antibodies themselves for HIV prevention, an effort referred to as passive administration.
We also look at the recent grants issued by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to develop vaccines against three other viral pathogens that are among the top threats to global public health, and pay tribute to a great vaccine champion and public health advocate, Adel Mahmoud, who passed away in June.
Despite all the talk of ending AIDS, and the well laid-out goals to accomplish this, the rate of new infections on a global scale has continued nearly unabated. And in some places, the epidemic is actually surging. Writing recently in Science, Jon Cohen and Jia You profile three places where the response to HIV/AIDS, for a variety of reasons, has been hampered, and as a result, the virus continues to thrive. The places are as disparate politically and economically as they are geographically—Florida, Nigeria, and Russia.
If the upcoming IAS conference sets the tone for the HIV/AIDS response, it will hopefully be that while there is still a long road to ending AIDS, the path is finally becoming clearer.
—Kristen Jill Kresge