Is talking about HIV cures doing more harm than good?

Is talking about HIV cures doing more harm than good?

Another week, another HIV ‘cure’ story – but is the focus on a possible cure or vaccine distracting us from focusing on the problem at hand?

pillsEvery week, without fail, there’s a big piece of news about a possible cure for HIV. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new drug, an existing treatment administered differently or some vegetable root – people get excited about it and then very quickly forget about it once it’s proven wrong or goes off for further scrutiny.

Every week, without fail, I speak to hundreds of people who lack basic knowledge about HIV, how it’s prevented and how it’s treated – worrying stuff. But what worries me further still is the number of people who think that there’s a cure out there that they can take, should they get infected.

It’s not just HIV negative people who believe this to be true either. Through the peer support work I’ve done over the years I’ve met dozens of HIV positive people who’re deliberately putting off starting their life saving HIV treatment because they believe that there’s a cure right around the corner.

Could it be that our fascination with a possible cure, and the media’s need to shout it from the roof top every time there’s a glimmer of hope (no matter how unsubstantiated) is causing the general public to believe we either already have a cure – or that one is just weeks or months away?

Perhaps we should be focusing on what’s going on now, right this minute? The fact is that there is no cure and no vaccine. There are 100,000 people in the UK living with HIV (22,000 of those undiagnosed) – with a whopping 6,360 people diagnosed in 2013 alone.

Even if a cure was discovered today, it would take at least five to ten years of multi-phase clinic trials, randomised studies and approval processes before it go to market. What we need to do is focus on the best possible prevention techniques and information for those who are HIV negative and the best possible care and support for those who are HIV positive.

We need to look to newer, more effective and more tolerable HIV therapies, we need to talk more about Treatment As Prevention (TASP) which can reduce the risk of onwards transmission by up to 96%, we need to talk more about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)  for at risk people which can reduce the chance of infection by about 50% (study/trial results vary), we need to talk more about refining condoms to make them easier and more enjoyable, and we need to talk about HIV more as a society.

HIV is here, and in a big way. If we lose sight of what’s happening now, if we focus only on a what might possibly perhaps happen ten years down the line we’re going to end up in a place where no cure can help us.

Tom Hayes (@UKPositiveLad on twitter)