Treatment as Prevention – the new vaccine for AIDS?

Julio Montaner, Myron Cohen and Jon Cohen, are Hope is a Vaccine Award Winners, 2011

Access to treatment is the main reason that AIDS-related deaths have tumbled in recent years. That’s something 2011 Hope Is a Vaccine Award winners (International Category), Julio Montaner and Myron Cohen, would have predicted. The two award winners are ardent supporters of the “Treatment as Prevention” approach to ending AIDS, in the absence of an effective vaccine. The approach is strongly supported by recent statistics released by UNAIDS to commemorate World AIDS Day on Dec 1, 2011. UNAIDS also stated “An estimated 700,000 AIDS-related deaths were estimated to have been averted in 2010 alone, due to improved access to care in places like sub-Saharan Africa, which recorded a 20-percent jump in people undergoing treatment between 2009 and 2010.” Also according to UNAIDS, 1.8 million deaths world wide were linked to AIDS in the past year, down from a peak of 2.2 million last seen in 2006.

EpiVax is a major supporter of the GAIA Vaccine Foundation, the organization that names International, National and Local “Hope is a Vaccine Award” winners to commemorate World AIDS Day, December 1st. The Hope is a Vaccine Award highlights the important work done by individuals fighting AIDS and their contributions to improving HIV care for persons living at the margins. The foundation hopes that the award will shed light on the hard work done by courageous advocates, scientists, and policy makers, and will encourage more individuals to be engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS world wide.

Dr. Myron Cohen is responsible for the publication of a landmark study in the New England Journal earlier this year that showed that treatment with AIDS drugs, known as anti retrovirals (ARV), effectively prevents HIV transmission. In the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 study, individuals who received ARV treatment early in their infection were at least 96% less likely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners than those who started on drugs later. The reduction in transmission is due to lower amounts of circulating HIV in the infected patient, while they are on ARV treatment.

Dr. Cohen earned the 2011 Hope is a Vaccine award for his dedication to providing a scientific foundation for the Treatment as Prevention. His primary research focus is on transmission and prevention of transmission of HIV, with emphasis on the role played by STD co-infections.  Much of Dr. Cohen’s research has been conducted in resource constrained countries, especially in the African country of Malawi and in the People’s Republic of China. He is currently the J. Herbert Bate Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Julio Montaner has also been an outspoken advocate of the Treatment as Prevention approach, also known as TasP. He has been a forceful advocate for expanded access to ARVs as early as 2009 and promoted TasP as president of the International AIDS Society and in scientific publications. He is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is awarded the Hope is a Vaccine Award in honor of his worldwide advocacy for “Treatment as Prevention”. He is a Professor of Medicine at University of British Columbia and is the Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.  He has been a member of the International AIDS Society (IAS) since 1988, and is the IAS past President (2008-2010).

  • National Hope is a Vaccine Award 2011: Jon Cohen, journalist, Science

Jon Cohen is a correspondent with Science who has covered HIV/AIDS from every angle – starting with his award-winning report on the epi-center of the epidemic in the former Zaire, and later reports on excursions to report on HIV/AIDS in the former Soviet Republic, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. His book entitled Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine (W.W. Norton, 2001) won many awards and inspired a documentary movie. Along the way, he has accumulated an impressive knowledge of the personalities and players in the AIDS Vaccine field and is well known for his insightful reporting on that topic. The National Hope is a Vaccine Award 2010 goes to Jon because of his dedication to the HIV/AIDS chronicle and his commitment to ‘telling the whole story’.

  • Local Hope is a Vaccine Award Winner: Paul Loberti, Public Health HIV/AIDS and TB Prevention expert based in Providence, RI

Paul Loberti, MPH, is the Chief Administrator of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis at the Rhode Island Department of Health. In this capacity he directs HIV, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis prevention and care efforts for the state. He has been an unfailingly devoted proponent of HIV prevention as a means of addressing the HIV epidemic – leading prevention campaigns in bathhouses among other locations, and has not been recognized previously for his efforts.  He has been at the Rhode Island Department of Health for approximately fifteen years.

For previous Hope is a Vaccine award winners, visit the GAIA Vaccine Foundation website.