World AIDS Day 2016

Nov. 30, 2016

I hope we have all had an opportunity over the past holiday weekend to give thanks for what we have—it is important to step back and reflect from time to time on the many benefits and advantages we have. It can help us realize what we have achieved, and the multitude of people and resources that we have been so fortunate to have access to, but it can also help us see where we have yet to go, and the problems that we need to address.

One of the primary things that many of us can be thankful for is the absence of serious illness. On December 1 we observe World AIDS Day, as the world has since 1988. AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes it, are unfortunately familiar to almost everyone. In the 35 years since the epidemic was first realized to exist, we have seen many efforts, and successes and failures, in the struggle first to understand and then to combat this affliction. Of course since the beginning this has been an area in which the microbial sciences were front and center. Being a viral disease, directly affecting the immune system, that often is complicated by infections by other organisms, it has required basic and clinical research from across the microbial sciences, and because of these we have made great advances over the last 3 and a half decades. ASM and its members have been involved from the beginning—ASM journals were the venues for many of the most important papers elucidating the nature of the virus and the evolving ways to treat its infection, and the ICAAC meeting in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a vital forum for advancing the treatment of AIDS through new drugs and drug combinations.

While we have learned much about the virus and how it has spread—and more importantly how to reduce its spread and treat those infected by it—the world has a long way to go before this disease can be no longer considered a threat. New HIV infections have been reduced by 35% since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42% since the peak in 2004, but there are still over 36 million people living with HIV and over 2 million new infections yearly worldwide. The 2016 World AIDS Day theme is On the Fast Track to End AIDS. The microbial sciences and ASM have much to offer in helping to keep the world on that track.  

Author: Stefano Bertuzzi

Stefano Bertuzzi
Stefano Bertuzzi is the CEO of the American Society for Microbiology.