UC Berkeley professors discuss HIV/AIDS research in light of World AIDS Day

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Sunday was World AIDS Day, an important time to reflect on the progress made to combat the disease, according to UC Berkeley professors.

World AIDS Day, founded in 1988, takes place every year Dec. 1, according to the World AIDS Day website. According to Sandra McCoy, associate professor-in-residence in the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC Berkeley, 38 million people live with HIV globally, and about 1.7 million people are newly infected with the disease every year.

“There are many vulnerable populations around the world for whom HIV is part of their day-to-day lives,” McCoy said. “It’s important for us to reflect on all the progress we made and all the progress that has yet to be done.”

Stefano Bertozzi, dean emeritus and professor of health policy and management at UC Berkeley, said World AIDS Day is a day of tolerance, acceptance and solidarity for people living with HIV and AIDS. He added that the day provides an opportunity to educate people about HIV, counteracting rumors that may stigmatize people with HIV or people at risk for it.

Bertozzi said he was not aware of any World AIDS Day campus events, “which is a little bit sad to be honest.”

Tami Cate, the Tang Center spokesperson, said in a statement that the Tang Center did not have any special events for World AIDS Day. McCoy said she was also unaware of any campus events, noting that this year was “challenging” because World AIDS Day was both on a Sunday and over Thanksgiving break. She mentioned that the 23rd International AIDS Conference will be hosted in San Francisco and Oakland in 2020.

“I think what we lacked in terms of our World AIDS Day activities, we will certainly make up in the incredible work that’s being done to prepare for (the conference),” McCoy said.

In regards to HIV research, current treatments include preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which is a “highly effective” oral preventative medication taken on a daily basis to prevent HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV treatment failure often happens because these daily treatments plans are not “sufficiently” followed, Bertozzi said.

Without constant treatment, people may develop a resistance to the medication because of a lack of antiretroviral agents that combat HIV. Therefore, while the biomedical tools to treat HIV are available, the new challenges are in ensuring that people take the medication consistently, according to McCoy.

Bertozzi said there has been interesting progress in HIV research related to long-acting treatments. New trials for prevention and treatment are being conducted, which are administered through injections. Bertozzi added that these treatments could provide an alternative to oral treatments.

Cate said in the statement that the Tang Center provides students with PrEP, post-exposure prophylaxis — which is taken after potential exposure to HIV — and social service staff for support processing their diagnosis and communicating with partners. Students diagnosed with HIV/AIDS can also receive medical counseling and health coaching support.

“We have this incredible toolbox, but now the challenge to us all is how will we deploy those tools in the most effective way, so that they reach people who are vulnerable in an equitable way?” McCoy said.

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.