SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS doesn’t get the headlines it did decades ago when effective treatment was elusive. But it’s still very much a health issue globally and locally as we approach World Aids Day this weekend.
There is no denying significant strides have been made to treat HIV/AIDS patients. But for World Aids Day on Sunday, a renowned non-profit and a local doctor who specializes in AIDS treatment are both urging greater effort to create an AIDS-free generation as Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains.
Despite immense progress in the past 15 years, nearly 500 children worldwide are infected every day with HIV: the virus that causes AIDS. Only 54 percent have access to the vital medications and services needed to stay healthy.
“Testing and treatment however have improved dramatically to the point where now in the U.S. there’s less than 80 infections a year mom-to-babies,” said Shubhra Shetty, MD who is Medical Director at The Wright Center For Community Health Ryan White Clinic in Scranton.
Dr. Shetty credits that success to HIV/AIDS medication assistance initiatives like Pennsylvania’s Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program, and nationally the AIDS Drug Assistance Program or ADAP. She sees a critical way to making even more strides.
“If the mother is diagnosed and treated the transmission risk goes down significantly so the baby only needs to be on medicines for a very short while,” she said.
“There’s just no reason with the medicines and the diagnostic tools that we have that we can’t achieve an end to new pediatric infections,” said Chip Lyons who is President/CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
It’s the mission of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation since its founding in 1988. It operates in 19 countries working to increase awareness of the healthy future that can await HIV/AIDS patients.
Mr. Lyons said, “But it starts by knowing your status and immediately getting onto the right medicines. That’s particularly important for children and it’s a real entry point for controlling the epidemic.”
The tools are there to do it. Mr. Lyons and Dr. Shetty agree it’s just a matter of making those tools accessible especially for infected moms-to-be. “They have to have access to care so they can be tested, they can be treated and so the babies don’t become positive,” said Dr. Shetty.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health says in 2018, there was only one pediatric HIV diagnosis in the Commonwealth but nearly 1,000 adolescent/adult new cases.