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A global commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic


In conjunction with World AIDS Day on December 1, a panel of experts involved in spearheading global efforts to manage the spread of HIV/AIDS gave their views on the progress that’s been made.

Roche Molecular Diagnostics is the founder of the Global Access Program, an initiative aimed at expanding access to quality, sustainable HIV diagnostic testing in support of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal. The organization’s Head of Business Unit Molecular Diagnostics, Dr. Uwe Oberlaender, shares his replies below.

Dr. Uwe Oberlaender

Dr. Uwe Oberlaender, Head of Business Unit Molecular Diagnostics, Roche Diagnostics


GAP

Do you think enough is being done on a national and global level to achieve an AIDS-free future? What more can be done by the average global citizen to help end this epidemic?

 

Together, as a community, we can build awareness, know our status, and control the spread of the epidemic.

The data from UNAIDS regarding the 90:90:90 goals show that different countries are at very different stages of managing the epidemic.

Here in the United States, data from the CDC shows that around 87% of the infected population are aware of the status, but less than half of those who have been diagnosed have their virus under control. Fast-track cities such as San Francisco, Denver and New York are ahead of the curve, showing progress can be made if there is focus on HIV testing. On a global level, the 90:90:90 goals have created momentum towards the end of the epidemic. As a result, Roche has stepped up collaborations with our partners to implement the Global Access Program with an overall objective to end the epidemic and, in the interim, increase awareness of HIV diagnostic testing and the need for HIV viral load testing.

Until AIDS has been eradicated, continued funding is critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and it is encouraging that the Global Fund’s recent fifth replenishment round raised $13 billion.

The average global citizen can contribute significantly towards ending the epidemic. Awareness is critical to eliminating AIDS from society—the average citizen should be aware of importance of testing, more frequently if in a high risk group, and they should encourage others to get tested. Together, as a community, we can build awareness, know our status, and control the spread of the epidemic.


What is something that you wish more people knew regarding HIV/AIDS; what are some common misconception?

 

It’s important to know that even when your viral load is undetectable, HIV can still exist and can still be transmitted.

I wish everyone understood that HIV is no longer terminal—it has become more of a chronic disease that can be managed. It is now highly treatable, but not curable. Success rates are related to maintaining treatment regimens and knowing viral load status, i.e. how much HIV is in a sample of blood. The goal of HIV treatment is to decrease your viral load—a successful treatment equates to low viral levels. High viral load levels indicate there is an issue with treatment and the levels of HIV circulating in the blood have increased. It’s important to know that even when your viral load is undetectable, HIV can still exist and can still be transmitted.

Unfortunately, misconceptions in some populations result in stigma attached to the disease. Education is key to minimizing the spread of the disease. Discrimination is a barrier to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This stigma and discrimination weakens the ability of any community to protect themselves from HIV and fight against the spread of the disease.


Everyone thinks of AIDS as an epidemic of the past, how would you describe the current state of HIV/AIDS?

 

[…]the epidemic is at a pivotal point, and the global community cannot lose focus if we want to achieve an AIDS-free generation by 2020.

Describing HIV/AIDS as an epidemic of the past is very dangerous. In fact, infection rates are on the rise in some parts of the world. Thinking the AIDS epidemic is a thing of the past could unwind much of the progress we have made over the years and exposes younger generations, who did not live through the start of the epidemic in the 80s and 90s, to contracting the diseases. Significant progress has been made in terms of treatment, diagnosis, and monitoring of the disease.

We at Roche are motivated by the progress made in reducing mother-to-child transmission and are proud that since 2002 over 7 million infants have been HIV-tested through a Roche diagnostic test. Over the last few years, Roche has been the global leader helping to increase access to viral load testing for monitoring treatment response. As a result of Roche’s efforts, more people have received access to testing. Even with all these achievements, the epidemic is at a pivotal point, and the global community cannot lose focus if we want to achieve an AIDS-free generation by 2020.


What are the most important steps for those at risk, or already living with HIV to take?

 

[…] with the great progress that has been made, people are living longer, healthier lives.

For those who believe they are at risk or may have HIV/AIDS, it is critical to get tested and know your status. The WHO now recommends “Test and Treat,” which has already been implemented in some areas.

For those living with HIV, if you are not already on treatment, get access to treatment. High-risk groups should consider Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which is also now recommended by WHO. PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.

Also, make sure you get routine viral load testing done to be certain your treatment is working. Viral load testing has been widely available in the Western world for many years, and now, due to programs such as our Global Access Program, it has become increasingly accessible in resource-limited countries such as across sub Saharan Africa.

Remember HIV/AIDS should no longer be the death sentence it was in the early days, and with the great progress that has been made, people are living longer, healthier lives. Speak up, your voice needs to be heard to help others and make sure we all work together as one community, to end AIDS.


 

About Dr. Uwe Oberlaender

Dr. Uwe Oberlaender

With over 20 years of experience working in the diagnostics field, Uwe Oberlaender brings a distinctive combination of leadership experience and a proven track record of significant accomplishments to his role as Head of Business Unit Molecular Diagnostics, Roche Molecular Diagnostics (RMD).

Uwe’s career at Roche began in 2000 as International Product Manager for Roche Applied Sciences in Penzberg, Germany. Since then he has held several leadership roles within Roche’s diagnostics division, including International Marketing Director for RMD, Penzberg; Head of Molecular Diagnostics Sales and Marketing, Mannheim; and Lifecycle Leader Virology for RMD in Pleasanton. Prior to taking the helm at RMD in January 2016, Uwe was the Country Manager of Roche Diagnostics, Mexico, headquartered in Mexico City.

Before joining Roche, Uwe held positions with German-based companies DiaSorin and Organon Teknika.

Uwe holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany.