When the first case of HIV was diagnosed in the early 1980s, science had no answers. There were no treatments or vaccines, and the epidemic went on to infect and kill millions of people worldwide.
Today there is still no vaccine. But, together with the right care, modern antiretroviral treatments can now suppress HIV to the point that it has no impact on life expectancy, reducing virus levels so low that the infection is untransmittable. Thanks to these treatments, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives.
And for diseases where a vaccine is available, treatments are still vital for saving the lives of people who haven’t been immunised.
Outbreaks of Ebola, with a survival rate of around 50%, have taken thousands of lives and have had a devastating impact across West Africa. In 2019, clinical trials identified two treatments that worked well, and thanks to these drugs, more than 90% of infected people now survive if treated early. A vaccine has also been developed, but the treatments remain essential for those who have not been able to have it, whether for medical or economic reasons.
To make similar lifesaving progress against COVID-19, we must direct the same energy towards finding treatments.