World AIDS Day 2022 at NIH: Reflecting on the Progress and Promise of HIV/AIDS Research
On December 1, 2022, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) commemorated World AIDS Day by highlighting past advances and potential breakthroughs in care and health outcomes made possible by HIV/AIDS research. In a virtual public event, NIH facilitated a compelling discussion about recent progress in HIV/AIDS research and the promise of future studies. The event was organized by the Office of AIDS Research (OAR), which also coordinates NIH’s HIV/AIDS research portfolio.
The event’s key themes included community engagement and breaking down barriers to care and treatment. Federal government leaders spoke about persistent prevention, treatment, and care inequities, as well as health disparities faced by communities across the United States and world.
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Co-Chair and Co-Founder of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, reflected on the challenges facing efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic: “Stigma and discrimination still prevent too many people from seeking testing and treatment. We know that Black, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities are disproportionately impacted by this epidemic. Ending the AIDS epidemic is not a question of lack of scientific knowledge, but rather a battle against inequity, stigma, and discrimination.”
Harold Phillips, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy in the White House, spoke about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), released a year ago, and its Federal Implementation Plan, released in August 2022: “NHAS promotes a whole-of-society effort to end the HIV epidemic.” NIH enables research that provides the “knowledge base to address two of the most challenging barriers to HIV-related health equity – stigma and discrimination. NIH-funded HIV research supports our collective work to address the HIV-related stigma and discrimination hindering our ability to reach populations most impacted by this condition.”
Admiral Rachel L. Levine, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, commented on the federal World AIDS Day theme of “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.” The theme, she said, “emphasizes accountability and action. It affirms the Administration’s dedication to ending HIV and its commitment to equity, centering on the engagement of those with lived experiences, particularly in communities that are disproportionately impacted. As we put ourselves to the test, it will take everyone’s commitment to successfully end HIV.”
Reflecting on the road traveled to arrive at World AIDS Day 2022, Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the inaugural director of NIH OAR, said, “Looking back to when I was named the first OAR director in 1988, we had few tools to treat patients with HIV and only one licensed antiretroviral drug, AZT [azidothymidine]. Then, a person in the United States diagnosed with AIDS typically had a life expectancy of less than three years. Today, a person with HIV can expect to live an almost normal lifespan,” thanks to “incredible progress” in HIV/AIDS research.
After opening remarks, Sally Hodder, M.D., Associate Vice President for Clinical and Translational Science and Director at the West Virginia Clinical & Translational Science Institute at West Virginia University, facilitated a discussion among a panel of experts on the interdisciplinary approaches across sectors needed to give more people access to lifesaving and life-improving resources for HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Themes discussed included maximizing community-based research efforts by NIH, mentoring the next generation of HIV/AIDS researchers, aging with HIV, overcoming disparities in access to prevention and treatment services, and addressing basic research challenges. The event concluded with a public Q&A session, followed by closing remarks and a memorial tribute from OAR to people who have influenced HIV/AIDS research.
World AIDS Day is a recurring opportunity to recognize the dedicated government and civil society commitment to HIV/AIDS research that provided a pathway to a nearly normal life expectancy for all people with HIV. The distinguished speakers at the NIH World AIDS Day 2022 event remind us of the unprecedented progress of HIV/AIDS research and its promise to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.