World AIDS Day is an occasion for remembrance, awareness and unity. We reflect on the past 30 years of research and development that has resulted in effective ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to treat those living with the disease. We applaud the heroic efforts of researchers who have been dedicated to making these advancements. Nevertheless, while the medical and advocacy communities and biopharmaceutical industry have made great strides in this respect, more work remains to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Only about one-third of the people living with HIV are getting the medical care they need, and only about 30 percent of them have achieved control over their HIV infection with medication. Control of the disease is important for two reasons – it benefits the patient’s health and reduces the likelihood of further HIV transmission.
Another major concern for people living with HIV/AIDS is catching and spreading other opportunistic infections that attack the immune system, such as tuberculosis (TB). TB is a highly contagious airborne disease that is spread from person to person if not treated. A once forgotten disease in the United States, TB has resurged with the spread of HIV. A little known fact is that TB is one of the leading causes of death among people living with HIV.
HIV and TB make for a deadly combination because each disease fuels the progression of the other. Those who are HIV positive are up to 30 times more likely to develop active TB than those are not. In 2013, an estimated 550,000 children globally became ill with TB and 80,000 HIV-negative children died of TB.
Worldwide, more than 2 billion people, equal to one-third of the world’s population, are infected with TB bacilli – also known as latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) – the microbes that cause tuberculosis. In the U.S., more than 11 million people have LTBI, and about five to 10 percent of them – up to more than 1 million people – will develop TB disease if not treated. Among people with LTBI, HIV infection is the strongest known risk factor for progression to TB disease.
People with HIV need to know that they are at greater risk for TB. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HIV screening for all TB patients. Anyone who believes themselves at risk for TB should talk to their healthcare provider.
Sanofi remains committed to developing new and improved strategies to control and defeat TB, and we are one of the few companies continuing to invest in the management of TB infection. Since the late 1950s, we have been committed to research and develop methods to treat, diagnose and prevent TB. We have worked closely with CDC to study new opportunities to treat latent TB infection. We believe in the importance of public-private partnerships to address unmet public health challenges.
Sanofi and the biopharmaceutical industry continue to develop preventative treatments for HIV/AIDS and related illnesses. On World AIDS Day, we remember those who succumbed to HIV/AIDS; we educate generations about prevention; and we come together in support of those who manage and battle the disease. Most importantly, beyond World AIDS Day, we will continue the fight this devastating disease.
Paul Chew is the global Chief Medical Officer at Sanofi