What comes to mind when you hear of HIV AIDS? Personally I always ask myself questions like, will there ever be a cure? When? And how?

Saying that there will never be a cause is to undermine science and technology. With that notwithstanding, the way the HIV attacks and destroys the body makes it more difficult to be eradicated from the body.

You can find out more about the way the virus invades and destroys the body in this article HIV/AIDS.

In this article, we will answer some of the questions concerning rumours about the cure of HIV/AIDS and if truly there is a cure or not.

What has been the journey so far?

Undoubtedly, HIV/AIDS has caused much more disaster in terms of human losses and huge economic consequences than any other disease in mankind. It has recorded the highest death rate of over 20 million people globally so far, and about 34 million are estimated to be living with the disease currently. How did this dreadful disease come about?

In 1981, the incidence of rare diseases was being reported among gay men in New York and California, such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma and a lung infection called Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. It was first of its kind and no one knew why the sudden spread of cancers and opportunistic infections, finally it had to be agreed upon that there could be an infectious disease causing them.

Initially, there were several names attributed to the disease relating to the word ‘gay’ such as “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID), as most of the initial cases were reported among gay people. Up until mid-1982, the CDC realised the ‘disease’ was also noted among other populations such as haemophiliacs and heroin users. Since 1982, the CDC denoted a name for the disease, as “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome” (AIDS) for these group of illnesses.

In 1983, scientists identified the cause of the disease, later named, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the same year, blood tests for the diagnosis of HIV infection became available.

It took about another 6 years after discovery, identification and naming of the disease to formulate the first treatment plan for it, which was a huge step in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The drug zidovudine (AZT) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on March 19, 1987, which was used in high doses to treat people infected with HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared 1st December as World AIDS Day in 1988 and the red ribbon was recognized as the international symbol of AIDS awareness in 1991.

Till date, the triple-drug therapy for HIV known as HAART (Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy) which was announced during the World AIDS conference in Vancouver has been the greatest milestone since the discovery of the virus.

HAART allows people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives and prevent the transmission of HIV to others. These medications can also be used as prevention in high-risk HIV-negative people acquiring HIV to make sure they stay negative.



Where is the source of HIV?

A West African chimpanzee was identified by scientists as the source of HIV infection in humans. It is believed that the chimpanzee version of the immunodeficiency virus (called simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV) most likely was transmitted to humans and mutated into HIV when humans hunted these chimpanzees for meat and came into contact with their infected blood. Over the decades, the virus slowly spread across Africa and later into other parts of the world.

The first known case of infection with HIV-1 in a human was detected in a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (How he became infected remains a mystery.) Genetic analysis of this blood sample suggested that HIV-1 may have evolved from a single virus in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Is there really a cure?

There is no cure or vaccine for HIV as it stands now. Tireless effort is being put in by scientists towards a cure to the two types of HIV.

Cure can be said to be ‘functional’ and ‘sterilizing’. A ‘functional cure’ aims at reducing the quantity of HIV in the body so low that it can’t be detected or make you sick.

A ‘sterilizing cure’ on the other hand is aimed at the complete eradication of the HIV virus from the body.

It is believed that antiretroviral therapy provides an effective functional cure but not sterilizing cure.

But wait, didn’t we already cure someone?

Only one known person has been recorded to have been cured in this way: Timothy Brown (a.k.a Berlin Patient).

Timothy Brown who was HIV-positive and diagnosed with leukaemia and underwent a stem cell transplant for leukaemia. Fortunately, he got more than he asked. The bone marrow tissue was not just good for leukaemia, but also had a rare genetic mutation that provides resistance to HIV infection. Ten years after his transplant, Brown remains off antiretroviral therapy and is free of detectable HIV.

Myths about the cure of HIV AIDS

As stated above, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS now.

Stories continue to circulate online that there are alternative ways of completely getting rid of the virus.

Some people recommend herbal medications, as a natural way of treating HIV. However, there is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of these medicines.

Taking herbal medicines will rather worsen the condition especially taking it alongside the antiretroviral drugs.

The future hope

Introducing a vaccine has been challenging for scientists, partly owing to the fact that, there are so many strains of the virus and HIV mutates rapidly to elude attack from the human immune system.

By far, two major HIV vaccine trials are ongoing in South Africa — HVTN 702 and HVTN 705.

Researchers are working on

• Gene editing which aims to change immune cells so they can’t be infected by HIV.
• Immune modulation which is looking for ways to permanently change the immune system to fight HIV.
• Stem cell transplants which aim to completely eliminate a person’s infected immune system and replace it with a donor immune system.

Key points

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS yet.

The HAART provides an effective functional cure but not sterilizing cure.

Effective HAART allows people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives and prevent the transmission of HIV to others.

Herbal medications have no evidence of a cure for HIV/AIDS.

There is only one person proved to be cured of HIV/AIDS.