Some talk of a cure, others of impending resistance to drugs. The latest findings about the immunodeficiency Aids and its pathogen HIV are currently being discussed at the international Aids conference in Washington, which is taking place until Friday. In an interview, Holger Wicht of the German AIDS Federation talks about prognoses and justified hopes.
CBA: Mr. Wicht, what is the focus of the International AIDS Conference?
Wicht: A major topic is the question of a cure. The International AIDS Society in particular says that HIV infection could become curable in the foreseeable future. But no one can say when research will achieve a breakthrough. It will definitely be a long time before a cure is available for HIV-positive people worldwide.
CBA: While there is talk of a cure at the conference, information about resistant HI viruses is circulating in the media. How does it fit together?
Wicht: Basically, there is no contradiction. When we talk about healing, we are talking about very different approaches, for example genetic engineering research. Resistant HI viruses appear against the drugs that HIV-positive people are already taking. The resistances can develop if there is not enough of the active substances in the blood. But this does not mean the end of therapy! If the virus becomes resistant to certain substances, the patient can still be switched to other combinations of drugs.
CBA: Experts are now saying that in five or six years, AIDS could be just a chronic disease. What do you think about this??
Wicht: In Germany we are even now talking about it. If HIV-positive people learn of their infection in time and receive therapies at the right time, they have a near-normal life expectancy. The disease Aids can then usually be avoided. In many poorer countries, however, the situation is still quite different.
CBA: Why? The drugs seem to be there after all?
Wicht: Seven million people worldwide desperately need it and don't get it! There is an effective international instrument to combat HIV, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But its pots are not sufficiently filled. The international community, and Germany in particular, must raise more money to combat the epidemic even more effectively. Germany in particular pays in far too little compared to countries with similar economic capabilities.
CBA: And if the money were there? Would it really be so easy to put an end to the disease??
importance: We can put an end to AIDS, even if the HIV virus will probably not be completely eradicated for a long time to come. It's a matter of political will whether or not people get effective drugs. But medicine is not everything. Prevention is just as important; such as education that fits the particular culture and lifestyle of the people, and above all, talking openly about HIV and how to protect yourself. People often do not dare to take a test because they are afraid of discrimination.
CBA: Do those affected at the conference also talk about such social factors?
Wicht: Of course, discrimination is always an ie, for example among drug users and homosexual men. It is important to understand that discrimination directly harms prevention – that is, contributes to the spread of HIV. The best example is the conference itself: Drug users and sex workers are not allowed into the U.S. An absurdity – how can we jointly confront the HIV epidemic if particularly affected groups are not even allowed to enter the land of the conference?
CBA: Shortly before the conference, hype about Truvada, a drug that is supposedly already effective as a preventive, has stoked hopes among HIV-positive people and their partners. What is your assessment?
Wicht: German experts view Truvada rather cautiously. The tablet is out of the question as a preventative for the masses. Outside of committed partnerships, condoms remain the safest way to protect yourself. And a therapy of the HIV-positive partner protects the negative one better than if he or she takes medication themselves. Nevertheless, here in the USA some people are almost enthusiastic about Truvada and imagine to use the tablet as a prophylactic for many people. We say: it may be an option for certain groups at high risk of infection. But there is still a need for research.
The interview was conducted by Larissa Hinz.