Dhe corona pandemic, which has meanwhile more than 3.1 million officially identified infected people, has not only almost displaced other epidemics from the focus of the public and politics. Corona with all its consequences also leads to dramatic consequences in the fight against a disease that is still far too often fatal: Aids.
In addition, for the first time in its history this year, a world AIDS conference could not take place as planned. The 23rd international meeting, which takes place only every two years, would probably have brought the 20,000 conference participants together again this week, and of all in that of Corona worst affected country in the world, the United States. However, “Aids 2020” did not take place in San Francisco and nearby Oakland in California, but in a much smaller and virtual form on the Internet. Also because, as the organizers announced, there have been no studies so far as to whether people with HIV who would have traveled to California in large numbers are more affected by Sars CoV-2 infection and the associated symptoms than people who are not infected with the HI virus.
One of the focal points of the approximately 600 contributions that were mostly broadcast live on the Internet in the past five days was about Covid-19. The consequences of corona-related restrictions are devastating: Thousands of people infected with HIV are at risk of premature death because they are currently unable to receive their life-sustaining medication. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that a six-month interruption of therapy this year and next year in sub-Saharan Africa could result in an additional 500,000 deaths. In 2018, around 470,000 people died of AIDS and the associated diseases such as tuberculosis in the region.
If, as feared, the lockdowns continue for six months, one would fall back on the year 2008 when around 950,000 people died of AIDS south of the Sahara. At the same time, the WHO points out that the aftermath of the six-month period would be felt for a further five years – with up to 40 percent more AIDS deaths per year than would be expected without a corona. Around 25.7 million of the approximately 38 million people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, two thirds of whom had access to AIDS drugs in 2018.
Difficulties in 104 countries
But not only Africa’s HIV-infected people suffer massively from corona-related restrictions: According to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, almost 85 percent of all HIV programs supported by the organization have difficulties in caring for their patients – and that in 104 Countries. Above all, the shortage has a catastrophic effect on the number of infections among children: Pregnant women infected with HIV can now give birth to healthy children with appropriate therapy.
The United Nations AIDS organization (UN AIDS) had set itself the goal of reducing the number of infections among newborns to 40,000 in 2018, and the target in 2020 was 20,000. But even without corona, the global community clearly missed these guidelines: According to UN AIDS data, 150,000 children were born with HIV in 2019, also because only 85 percent of pregnant women around the world had access to antiretroviral drugs. The numbers will deteriorate further due to the corona pandemic. Therefore, one of the main demands of “Aids 2020” was that Covid-19 should not redistribute funds urgently needed to fight AIDS.
Two sensational scientific studies were also presented during the course of the week: An international research team led by Ricardo Diaz from the University of São Paulo has “cured” a 34-year-old man infected with HIV. The patient had been infected with the virus since 2012, and in addition to his standard treatment, he received other antiretroviral drugs during the study period from 2016 to the end of March 2019, including maraviroc and dolutegravir, as well as vitamin B nicotinamide. Thereafter, the therapy was stopped. Although the man has not been given any medication for 57 weeks, there are no viruses or antibodies in his body. He would be the third “healed”, and that without a transplant as in the other cases (“Berlin patient”, “London patient”). The two had cancer and received stem cells from donors who are protected against most HI viruses thanks to a genetic mutation.
The second international study, led by a team of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles led by scientist Raphael J. Landovitz, looked at HIV protection, which does not have to be taken daily and in tablet form. The active ingredient cabotegravir is rather injected with a syringe every two months. This opens up new possibilities for so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or prep for short, in which antiretroviral drugs are taken as a precautionary measure to protect against HIV infection.