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World AIDS Day 2021 Marks 40 Years Since First Cases; Still No Cure, But Effective Treatment and Prevention

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The focus is on getting medications to Black trans and gay men, who suffer an inordinate number of infections

Today is World AIDS Day, marked each Dec. 1. But this year makes 40 years since the first five cases were officially reported. Since then, more than 36 million people worldwide have died of AIDS-related illnesses. There is still no cure.

We have come a long way though, said Shayne Judge, a counselor at the Babs Siperstein PROUD Center at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, N. J.

She said HIV can still do damage, but now we can stop it before it becomes fatal.

“It will still continue to affect the body, your major organs, things like that, but with the medications that we have we’re able to prolong life,” she said, “and not continue into AIDS because once you have AIDS it is not reversible and from there treatment is limited.”

The theme for World AIDS Day 2021 is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice,” which serves to address health inequities among different populations.

Judge said Black trans and Black gay men continue to suffer an inordinate number of HIV infections.

There are HIV treatments though now, and prevention strategies, such as a daily pill to prevent infection. The focus, she said, is getting medication to those who need it most but may not be able to afford it.

“You can become undetectable (the amount of virus in an infected person) which is great, but again, these medications are also costly and often it’s hard for a person to access this kind of medical care and those medications,” Judge said.

And new medications are in the works, she said.

“There is also an injectable prep (pre-exposure prophylaxis) that is being studied at the moment and they’re still in clinical trials, so we’re not there yet,” she said, “but there is hope for a less taxing regimen and something that is easier and more accessible for people to take.”