Act Now! Tell Congress to Fund Lifesaving Research
It’s mid-September, and the U.S. Congress is making critical decisions on spending for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, including funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Congress has the choice to robustly fund NIH so that the nation’s biomedical research agency can continue to make breakthroughs in life sciences that will enhance human health and reduce illness and disability.
As a medical doctor and HIV researcher—with many years working at the epicenter of the HIV pandemic—I have seen firsthand how HIV research has saved countless lives and brought hope to families in the United States and around the world.
Research led by NIH has been critical to understanding how HIV works, how to treat those who are infected, and how to prevent new infections. And NIH continues to be at the forefront of research toward an HIV vaccine—and a cure.
Nowhere has the value of this research been more evident than in the studies to discover how to prevent transmission from mother to child.
In the early days of the HIV epidemic, HIV-positive pregnant women faced the high possibility of passing the virus to their babies, with no options. However, by the early 1990s, research showed that there was hope for these women. The NIH AIDS Clinical Trial Group demonstrated that it was possible to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by nearly 70 percent by administering antiretroviral drugs to both the mother and her baby. The results of subsequent studies indicated that we could reduce this even further, eventually cutting the transmission risk to less than 2 percent.
This was an incredible breakthrough, leading to swift scale-up of interventions and the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission in the United States. However, in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV and AIDS were taking a tremendous toll, it was not as simple—costly and complicated regimens could not be successfully implemented.
Fortunately, NIH was there again. In the late 1990s I was lucky enough to work on an NIH-sponsored drug trial in Uganda. This study established that we could achieve significant reductions in infant infections with a single dose of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine when administered to both mother and baby. The results led to the rapid scale-up of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of all cases of mother-to-child transmission occur.
Thanks to other studies funded through NIH, we now have even more effective regimens to help mothers and their children than we did 15 years ago. In fact, over the past 10 years the number of new infections in children has been cut in half because of new research and scaling-up.
Yet, as far as we have come, HIV and AIDS continue to impact millions of women, children, and their families each year. Nearly 700 children are still born HIV-positive each day, and only a quarter of children have access to treatment. Yet, with continued research and breakthroughs, I am confident that we can end AIDS.
As Congress makes important decisions on funding for the upcoming fiscal year, we need to remind our policy makers that robust support for NIH is critical—for HIV and many other diseases.
You can help! Reach out to your members of Congress today and ask them to save lives through support for a strong NIH.
Laura Guay, M.D., is the vice president of research at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.