HIV Fight, Through a Young Doctor's Eyes

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Toward a Cure? Young Doctor Reflects on HIV Pandemic

As the week progressed, "treatment as prevention" was a hot topic amongst conference goers. There is now proof that treating people with HIV early -- rather than waiting for their CD4 immune cells to drop -- can help to prevent transmission of the virus to others. This represents a shift from thinking about HIV treatment as directed toward the individual to thinking about the potential benefit to communities.

Koenig said this new information will be helpful for counseling patients with new diagnoses of HIV.

"For patients who are reluctant to start treatment for their own benefit, they may be motivated to know that they can help to prevent transmission of the virus to their loved ones," she said.

Another topic of discussion among researchers this week was new research related to pre-exposure prophylaxis or PREP, a once-daily pill to prevent HIV among those who are uninfected. Researchers are now looking for other ways to administer PREP, such as a monthly injectable, or a vaginal ring that could deliver both PREP and hormonal contraception.

For Koenig, whose research interests include HIV prevention among young men who have sex with men, this discussion spark renewed interest in how clinicians can deliver PREP quickly and effectively.

The results of one study showing that young black MSM (men who have sex with men) living in urban areas in the U.S. acquire HIV infection at a rate of almost 6 percent per year -- three times that of U.S. white MSM -- generated great interest among the public. "Unfortunately, it's very common for me to see young black men who have sex with men in my clinic with a new diagnosis of HIV," Koenig said. "It's just devastating, especially to see young men who have relatively advanced disease."

She does, however, see the AIDS conference as a way to generate public awareness about AIDS in general, and racial disparities such as these.

"Friends and family who don't usually ask me about HIV are calling because they've heard about the conference," she said. "This is a special opportunity to teach people about HIV and raise awareness."

Aside from a busy schedule of attending lectures, Koenig also juggled having her 7-month-old daughter, Emma, with her at the conference -- "the youngest AIDS activist here," quipped one attendee. But her presence had special meaning for Koenig. "As both a mother and an HIV doctor, having my daughter here put a different perspective on what is means to have an AIDS-free generation.

"For me, this is the best gift we could give our children."

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