Finding a Cure: Q&A with The AIDS Institute

Finding a Cure: Q&A with The AIDS Institute

07.24.12 | By Mark Grayson

Today we have an interview with Carl Schmid, Deputy Executive Director for The AIDS Institute, a national nonprofit organization that promotes action for social change through public policy research, advocacy and education.

PhRMA: Thank you for joining us. The AIDS Institute was originally founded in the mid-80s as an advocacy organization and became a 501(c)3 in 1992. With treatment of the disease changing significantly since your organization's inception, could you talk about how the AIDS Institute has evolved over that time and what its priorities are moving forward?

Carl Schmid (CS): At first, AIDS organizations like ours focused on providing support to individuals who were very ill and dying along with their loved ones. Today, with advancements in treatment and established programs funded in part by the government and private institutions, we now must focus on ensuring everyone with HIV has access to care and treatment. Today, less than half of people with HIV in the U.S. receive adequate care and treatment, so we have a long way to go. And, since people are no longer dying like they used to, we have to remind people including our elected officials that there still is an AIDS crisis in our country today.

PhRMA: Although finding a cure for AIDS has long been considered out of reach, a number of researchers suggest that it might be a realistic goal now. Do you agree?

CS: A cure continues to be the ultimate goal, but scientists all say, unfortunately, that it is years away. Therefore, we must focus on improving prevention, which includes increased HIV testing and treatment. We also need to make sure everyone with HIV has access to care and treatment.

PhRMA: This month, the FDA approved the first rapid, at-home HIV test, which has the potential to dramatically change how we treat the disease as a result of the early detection. What other innovative medicines and treatments have come to market that have similarly impacted the disease? What was the result?

CS: Research and technology have revolutionized AIDS care. Years ago, there was not even a test to identify HIV or medications to treat it. When the first treatments were developed, patients had to take a number of medicines, several times a day. Today, multiple medications are available in the form of one pill, taken once a day. Since the medicine must be taken every day for the rest of a patient's life, this makes adherence easier. In the future, with new research and medications under development, we hope there will be medications that can be taken less frequently, perhaps only once per month.

PhRMA: Why is innovation that drives the research and development of effective treatments important to people with AIDS? What are the challenges to ensuring timely access to new medications for the patients who need them?

CS: Innovation for AIDS drugs is critical as there is still no cure and not every drug works the same for every person. In addition, patients develop resistance or side effects to their current drug regimen so more effective medications are always needed.

PhRMA: As the Obama Administration begins to implement its comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, what challenges do you see to its success and what do you think is most essential to achieving success by the 2015 deadline?

CS: Federal funding for treatment, prevention and research has been threatened as our country seeks to address our significant federal debt crisis. When you examine the amount of federal AIDS spending that is devoted to HIV prevention, it is only three percent. Prevention funding must increase, but real cuts to the programs are now on the table. Additionally, Medicaid and Medicare, which pay the most for AIDS care and treatment in the U.S., are also facing cuts. Continued political leadership is also needed. President Obama began the conversation two years ago with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, now we must work to sustain and expand the conversation at all levels of government.

PhRMA: What does the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Affordable Care Act mean to people with HIV/AIDS in the US?

CS: Implementation of the Affordable Care Act will substantially improve access to AIDS care and treatment for people with AIDS who have long been discriminated against in the private insurance market due to their pre-existing health condition. Now, more people can access private insurance without lifetime limits which has been a barrier in the past. Expansion of Medicaid, closing the Medicare Part D "donut hole" and preventive services will revolutionize HIV care and treatment in our country.

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