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IVI editorial in The Korea Herald advocates for Korean leadership for global health

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South Korea urged to more actively participate in the fight against AIDS

Author
ivi
Date
2016-10-10 07:05
Views
2066

South Korea urged to more actively participate in the fight against AIDS
- Editorial by IVI Director General published on occasion of World AIDS Day

On the occasion of World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), IVI Director General Dr. Jerome Kim penned an editorial urging for more support from South Korea in the global fight against AIDS. The piece was translated into Korean and published in the Dong A Ilbo, one of South Korea’s top three dailies. The English version of the editorial is below.

South Korea urged to more actively participate in the fight against AIDS

I was in my second year of medical school when I first heard about “Gay compromise syndrome,” now called AIDS. Less than six months later, I met my first patient with AIDS. Since then, I have seen persons living with HIV/AIDS all over the world – the United States, Africa, Thailand, Russia, and India. I taught about HIV/AIDS in my Sunday school class. I remember the first time I discussed ventilator support for someone with pneumonia, an opportunistic infection of AIDS; my first patient on AZT treatment; the dramatic impact of new highly potent agents; my clinic and patients in Baltimore –ground zero for the AIDS epidemic among the U.S. urban poor; and the announcement of the U.S. President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) . I also remember the results – parents who were once living skeletons becoming healthy and productive and families being saved; and planning with various governments to roll out treatment programs – commuting a death sentence to a lifetime of therapy.

The triumph of medical science over the lethality of AIDS, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “…is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

“No war on Earth,” said Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State, “is more destructive than the AIDS pandemic.” Thirty-four million deaths later, with 36 million HIV-infected people, we have slipped into complacency, heartened by reports that, with highly active drugs, AIDS is a “chronic” disease. Last year, South Korea reported additional 1,000 HIV-infected persons, now nearing a total of 10,000 currently living with HIV/AIDS. The lifetime costs of caring for an HIV-infected person is estimated at 400,000 USD. If you add up the costs of care for all HIV-infected persons in South Korea over a lifetime, it would be billions of U.S. dollars (or trillions of Korean won). Perhaps it is the stigma of a disease affecting those in society that many consider the “fringe” makes HIV/AIDS less compelling?

Last year, the U.S. National Institutes of Health invested over a billion dollars in research on HIV treatment, prevention, and a cure. The large “collaboratories” of investigators in finding a cure and a vaccine, and the billions of U.S. dollars spent on the treatment of HIV in Africa are the response of a nation to an epidemic that disproportionately affects the poorest, the outcasts, those who choose to be different. But one nation is not enough.

Does South Korea need to wait for an outbreak of another disease that “can’t ever happen here” - like MERS? Sir Peter Medawar, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the immunology of transplants, noted: “Any scientist of any age who wants to make important discoveries must study important problems.” Is the challenge of arguably the greatest infectious disease threat of our generation enough to fund South Korean scientists to join those in Europe, North America, Japan and China in search of an effective vaccine or a cure for AIDS?

South Korea and the world should not be satisfied by the half-measure of our current progress. Fund research to treat and cure AIDS, fund the search for a vaccine.

 

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