One disease that has crossed all borders and seems to be re-emerging is HIV/AIDS. Since the first case was diagnosed in 1981, HIV/AIDS has devastated families, societies and economies. More than 7.8 crore people have been infected with HIV worldwide and half of them have died.
India bears the third highest burden of HIV/AIDS in the world despite having radically brought down the incidence of new cases by 57% since 2000. Almost 1.16 lakh adults are newly infected each year. To sustainably stem the march of HIV, the world needs a powerful prevention tool that would serve as an equaliser and in combination with ongoing treatment efforts offer a sustainable, comprehensive response.
Remember your shot for measles or chicken pox, or polio drops? These life-saving vaccines have been among mankind’s greatest success stories, curbing debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Like the world over, vaccines are a high national priority and recognised as an effective public health weapon by the government, as evident through Mission Indradhanush.
Particular to HIV/AIDS, the government’s sustained support in partnership with NGOs has created centres of excellence that accelerate research of safe, effective, preventive AIDS vaccines.
However, scientific advancements today give us reason to believe that a vaccine for AIDS may not be so far away. A three-pronged approach — encompassing community-driven research preparedness; advancement of innovative discovery and development of next generation vaccines; and creating an enabling environment for research — has helped integrate India’s regional capabilities and synergies into state-of-the-art global research collaborations that have helped bring a greater understanding of the relationship between human beings and HIV/AIDS. Today India is equipped with enhanced knowledge of antibodies that could neutralise a broad spectrum of HIV’s variants. Moreover, this groundbreaking work also benefits knowledge and intervention in other disease areas like influenza, TB, ebola and cancer.
Partnering and contributing to the whole nine yards of progressive science and responsible-responsive healthcare, are the R&D building blocks that will support ‘Make in India’ become a reality in the field of vaccines. With the government’s continued and enhanced commitment, especially now combined with the recent Saarc countries’ resolve — the ‘Delhi Declaration’ to eliminate HIV by 2030; we are certain such collective strength would complete the circle of success and help us to victory in 2030.
Rajat Goyal is a haemato-oncologist and is country director, IAVI
The views expressed are personal