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HIV/AIDS: A Postmodern Epidemic and Its Depiction (March 2016): Looking Forward and Conclusion

By Sharon Leslie

Looking Forward

Although new HIV infections have fallen by almost 40 percent since 2001, UNAIDS reported that an estimated 1.5 million people worldwide died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2013.  In the Western world, the sense of urgency about AIDS has decreased since combination therapy became available in the mid-1990s.  An unexpected consequence of the success of combination therapy is that people have become complacent about safe-sex methods—and the need to use them consistently—which has led to a resurgence in new infections.  As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2011 survey HIV/AIDS at 30: A Public Opinion Perspective makes clear, in the United States the stigma of HIV infection continues.

Many international agencies are working on vaccine development, prevention strategies, structural remedies, and poverty relief in the hope that by scaling up prevention and treatment programs they will eventually outpace and even eliminate the disease.  Nathalia Holt’s recent Cured: How the Berlin Patients Defeated HIV and Forever Changed Medical Science describes the cases of two men who were declared “functionally cured” of HIV infection, in one case following a painful and expensive bone marrow transplant of HIV-resistant stem cells.  Although the technique appears to have worked in one patient, the economic feasibility and logistics must be assessed.  Biomedical Advances in HIV Prevention: Social and Behavioral Perspectives, edited by Lisa Eaton and Seth Kalichman, focuses on biomedical technologies currently being researched (e.g., topical microbiocides/gels and vaccines) to help end the spread of HIV.  Pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are other treatment options being explored.  Rethink HIV: Smarter Ways to Invest in Ending HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, edited by Bjørn Lomborg, ranks HIV prevention and treatment policies using a cost-benefit analysis.  A priorities ranking report put together by the aids2031 Consortium, AIDS: Taking a Long-Term View, suggests that researchers take a fresh, proactive approach as well as a long-term approach.  The international organization UNITAID, launched by the United Nations in 2006, is using innovative financing to encourage pharmaceutical companies to participate in the Medicines Patent Pool, which allows drugs to be used on an open-access basis by researchers in developing countries.  And fast-track programs such as that initiated at USAIDS support scaling up HIV prevention and treatment programs with an eye toward ending the epidemic as a public health issue within the next few decades.[1]


[1] UNAIDS, Fast-Track—Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030,


As this essay shows, the range of HIV/AIDS literature is broad and spreads across many disciplines.  Publication of monographs in the clinical sciences has slowed, with journals providing the most up-to-date research.  Most of the monographs fall under the heading of public health, although the sociology literature on HIV/AIDS is steadily growing as a generation of survivors reaches more milestones.  Stopping the disease will involve using all the techniques available—education, prevention, treatment, and research—and overcoming financial impediments.  The disease is still active, and academic interest in it will continue.  One hopes the literature will eventually move from such immediate topics as treatment and prevention to historical observations.

Works Cited