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New Hope For Fighting AIDS

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The White House on Tuesday unveiled President Obama’s national strategy for combating HIV/AIDS, which aims to curb infections by 25 percent in the next five years by focusing resources on demographic groups that are most at risk.

While the plan does not call for significant new spending — drawing criticism from several AIDS activists — officials said it represents a smarter use of federal dollars to stem the epidemic, which infects 33 million people around the world, 1.1 million of whom are in the U.S.

Of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, HIV and AIDS have hit African Americans the hardest. The reasons are not directly related to race or ethnicity, but rather to some of the barriers faced by many African-Americans including poverty (being poor), sexually transmitted diseases, and stigma (negative attitudes, beliefs, and actions directed at people living with HIV/AIDS or directed at people who do things that might put them at risk for the disease.)

Meanwhile the push for a vaccine marches on. Results of clinical trials involving more than 16,000 adults in Thailand represent the first break through since the mid-1990s, when potent new “drug cocktails” – a mix of protease inhibitors and other anti-retrovirals – turned AIDS from a virtual death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease for many patients.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health which helped fund the study, the vaccine regime was safe and reduced by 31% the chance of infection with the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

The potential for a vaccine is a “benchmark” in the 30-year long battle against the devastating disease that has reaped havoc on communities of color worldwide. The vaccine was specifically designed for use in Thailand because it is based on the subtype B and E strains of HIV common there.

Thus, it isn’t clear whether it would work in Africa where subtypes, A, C and D predominate.

Two thirds of the 33 million people with HIV live in Africa, and 75% of all AIDS deaths in 2008 occurred there.

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