Today, May 18, is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. During these 24 hours, 14,000 people around the globe (including more than 100 people in the United States) will become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
As the AIDS epidemic enters its third decade, more than 900,000 individuals are living with HIV infection in the United States and another 460,000 HIV-infected people in this country have died. An additional 40,000 Americans will become newly infected with HIV this year. More than half of these infections will occur in young people under age 25. Around the world the situation is much worse: 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 22 million HIV-infected individuals have already died.
Over the past decade, prevention efforts have slowed the spread of HIV, and new therapies have reduced deaths due to AIDS in those parts of the world where therapy is available and affordable. However, as the numbers above illustrate, more needs to be done. In this regard, a critical element in the fight against HIV/AIDS is HIV vaccine research. Because of the increase in HIV vaccine research funding over the past five years and the untiring work of scientists in government, industry and academia a variety of new potential vaccines are in the pipeline, and trained researchers are poised to evaluate them. Several vaccine candidates have recently shown remarkable promise in tests in non-human primates. The best candidates are rapidly being moved into human trials in the United States and abroad, and we remain optimistic that a safe and effective vaccine can be developed that will prevent HIV infection or slow the progression of disease in people who already are infected with the virus.
Working with a diverse group of partners that includes pharmaceutical companies, academic medical centers, philanthropies, foreign governments and activists, NIH-supported researchers and scientists around the world stand on the brink of significant progress in the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine. We anticipate that we will make substantially more progress in the next decade than we did in the previous one.
Results from the world's first two large-scale efficacy trials will be available within the next year. A third large-scale efficacy trial will begin in Thailand soon. In addition, over the next two years we expect to test more than a dozen new potential vaccines, an effort that will require more than 20 clinical trials of various sizes.
We are moving more potential HIV vaccines from the laboratory to the clinic because we recognize that it is unlikely that the first few vaccines tested in large-scale efficacy trials will be 100 percent effective in preventing HIV infection or AIDS. Instead, they represent steps in what will likely be a lengthy process of HIV vaccine development and clinical trials.
We are confident that research will lead to an HIV vaccine, perhaps not in a year or two, or even three years. However, we will get there. When we do, we hope to have the ability to significantly control the spread of HIV in the same way that we have defeated smallpox, polio and measles. Together with other prevention and treatment efforts, a safe and effective HIV vaccine is our best hope in reversing the alarming trends in HIV/AIDS incidence and continued deaths.
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day is an opportunity to learn more about HIV vaccine research the progress we have made to get where we are today, the great promise of tomorrow, and the steps needed to achieve our ultimate goal of a safe and effective HIV vaccine. Without clinical trials of HIV vaccines, and the support of tens of thousands of volunteers who will participate in these trials, HIV will continue to devastate communities throughout the United States and the world. Equally important, May 18th also provides us with an opportunity to recognize the community leaders and educators, researchers and the thousands of volunteers around the world that have brought us this far. Thank you.
Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
For more information on HIV vaccine research, please visit http://www.niaid.nih.gov/hivvaccines.