28 Nov 2019   |   Viewpoint

Viewpoint: We must embrace innovation to beat AIDS

Working with countries in Africa, the EU has fostered innovation that is making an important contribution to the fight against AIDS. To build on this, the new Africa-EU partnership now taking shape needs more ambitious goals

Portuguese MEP Maria Da Graça Carvalho. Photo credit: © 2019 EU-EP-MCH

On 1 December the world will mark the 31st World AIDS Day. Three decades of effort to control the HIV virus have seen some notable progress, but while AIDS-related deaths have fallen by more than 56 per cent since the peak in 2004, around 1.7 million people were newly-infected with HIV in 2018.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at the end of 2018 there were 36.7 million people with HIV worldwide. Of these, 79 per cent had been diagnosed and 62 per cent were on treatment. That leaves millions of people living with HIV who are yet to be diagnosed.

So despite progress, there’s much to be done if we are to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

That certainly won’t be possible with the tools that we have today. Current prevention and treatment methods are insufficient, with the virus is becoming resistant to some drugs. And after many years of research, the rapid rate of mutation of the virus means there is still no vaccine against HIV.

We must embrace innovation for new or improved, efficacious, safe, affordable tools that can prevent, treat or cure the infection.

Of approximately 37.9 million people were living with HIV in 2018, three in four were in Africa, according to WHO.

In sub-Saharan Africa, four in five new infections in adolescents aged 15–19 years are in girls. Legal and social factors often create barriers to accessing services, and there’s an urgent need for new prevention measures designed specifically to protect women. That should include discrete methods, such as vaginal rings that allow women to reduce their infection risk on their own terms.

This is where the EU, with its thriving research and innovation community and renowned expertise in the area of neglected disease research and innovation, can make a difference. Addressing persisting product and research gaps by investing in HIV & AIDS research and innovation will save lives. Such investment will deliver on the sustainable development goals and has a great return on investment for Europe - creating high-quality jobs, driving scientific excellence and Europe’s competitiveness in research and innovation, and boosting economies.

Since 2003, the EU and a number of European and sub-Saharan African countries have collaborated in the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), successfully accelerating the development of drugs, vaccines, microbicides and diagnostics against poverty-related and neglected diseases, including HIV & AIDS.

Several EDCTP funded studies provided evidence of more effective ways to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and a new child-friendly formulation combining antiretroviral drugs has been developed thanks to this partnership.

The European Commission and member states are currently negotiating a new EU-Africa Global Health Partnership to succeed EDCTP. To ensure the success and impact of the programme, we need an institutionalised partnership with a more ambitious budget than the current EDCTP and a governance structure that puts participating African countries on an equal footing to their European counterparts. The new EU-Africa partnership also needs to have a flexible approach to including relevant partners, such as the UK.

Collaboration is central to this partnership, and World AIDS Day serves as an important reminder of the important contribution we can make together to the global fight against HIV & AIDS. Investing in this future EU-Africa partnership will drive forward the essential innovation required to achieve our 2030 goals and save countless lives.


Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up