NEW YORK, May 18, 2011—In the three decades since AIDS was first identified in a brief article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus that causes this devastating disease has taken the world on a roller coaster ride.
We have watched in dismay as HIV has spread around the world, infecting more than 60 million people and claiming nearly 30 million lives; we have all rejoiced as scientific advances have yielded a battery of drugs that have transformed the once inevitably lethal disease into one that is relatively manageable, allowing millions of people living with HIV to lead longer and more productive lives. We have fought to make some of those drugs available to more than 5 million of the poorest and most vulnerable people living in developing countries. We have lamented our collective failure to provide them to the millions of others who remain in need of treatment.
Over the past three extraordinary decades, we have faced the daunting challenge of developing an effective biomedical tool to prevent HIV infection, particularly an AIDS vaccine.
If that once seemed nearly impossible, it no longer does, thanks to a series of significant scientific advances over the past two years. Scientists now have in hand the first rudimentary tools we need to defeat this most challenging of viruses. We now know that we will have an AIDS vaccine.
Getting here has not been easy. Those who have been active in the struggle to end AIDS know just how painfully the years once dragged on as, time and again, the weapons we devised against HIV misfired and sent us back to the drawing board. But none of those efforts have been wasted.
We would not be where we are today had thousands of volunteers around the world who participated in vaccine research decided, instead, to stay home: their altruism and generosity of spirit has been—and remains—the bedrock on which recent advances have been built.
We would certainly not be here today if committed HIV advocates had not worn down their shoe leather and worn out their voices, visiting the offices of policymakers and philanthropists, exhorting support for desperately needed new tools to prevent HIV. And, finally, we would be nowhere at all without the support of courageous funders who have for years committed their precious resources to support a quest that, in the earliest days, they had every reason to question. It is their generosity that has transformed the abstruse science of HIV-prevention research into palpable hope for millions around the world whose lives, families and communities have been devastated by HIV.
The physicians, researchers, philanthropists, policymakers and advocates who have informed, promoted and funded prevention research are the true champions of the global campaign against HIV. This World AIDS Vaccine Day, IAVI pays tribute to each and every one of these largely unsung heroes for their tireless efforts and dedication to ending the AIDS pandemic.