Archive ID: 2012_88_edited

XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. Interview with the French Virologist, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 for discovering HIV as the cause of AIDS. Here she talks about the possibility of ending AIDS.

Background material

”Francoise Barre-Sinoussi is a French virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 1983. She is now elected President of IAS. I have interviewed her several times for Face of AIDS. A friend.” – Staffan Hildebrand


In this AIDS conference, for the first time,
it's talk about ending AIDS.
What does it mean to you?
Ending AIDS, that means to me that we
know today that's possible.
We know today that's possible with the tools
that science has delivered during the last 30 years.
We have diagnostic tests.
We made progress regarding rapid tests.
We made progress regarding treatment.
We have antiretroviral treatment that
bring a lot of benefit for-- individual benefit
for the patients.
We know that it decreases more than 85%
of mortality of the patient.
But in addition, since now last year,
we have the final evidence that the treatment is also
We know that it is a treatment.
When the people are treated early,
then they do not transmit to others.
So if you consider that the treatment is also prevention,
that mean-- and according to the mathematical model--
we shall be able, we must be able to stop the AIDS
epidemic by 2050.
However, of course, we are all pushing
for the universal access to treatment to all.
We know that we have made enormous progress.
Today, we have 8 million of people on treatment
everywhere in the world.
We need to do better.
We need to do better.
And the reason why, the main message
of this conference here, is to try
to say to the decision-maker, look, we made this progress.
We cannot stop it.
We should continue.
We should continue.
Meanwhile, science can continue to work.
Scientists can continue to work and to try
to have a vaccine, which will be one additional components
for prevention, and we need to have alternative therapeutic
for the future.
It's the reason why, at the IAS, we launch this "HIV Cure"
initiative two years ago-- in order to accelerate research
on novel therapeutic strategy for the future,
aiming at least to have a treatment that the patients can
So it will be less costly.
It will be less problem of adherence to the treatment.
The treatment today, it's a lifelong treatment.
Less complication.
There is a small proportion of patients on long-term life
treatments that show complications.
So we need to continue both implementation of the tools
that we have in our hand today and to continue science
in order to bring the novel therapeutic approaches
for the future and also the vaccine.
As a scientist, when you look back a little, what do you see?
What kind of really important breakthroughs
during these 30 years?
Many important breakthrough has been, of course, the treatment.
Because as I said, it's clear that treatment--
it's not only a treatment.
It's also prevention.
So I mean, this is the main breakthrough.
Of course, we got this combined treatment in 1996.
All over the year, since 1996, we
are seeing now the long-term benefits of this treatment.
And we knew since the mid-'90s that the treatment was already
prevention for mother-to-child transmission,
so one of the critical objective today and the United Nations
decided that we should be able-- we should do it,
elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015.
That is feasible.

When you look on the-- there is a world economic crisis,
the need of funding is still big for HIV and AIDS.
How do you see this conflict?
It's a terrible conflict, as you said,
but you know that it has been studies and research made
showing that the treatment for HIV patients is cost-effective.
There are several studies reported
in the literature is showing that, if you treat
the patients in countries strongly affected by HIV,
there is effectiveness for the country
because people are in age of working.
So if they are sick, of course, they cannot work.
And in addition, of course, you have
all the care for the patient, which
is very expensive as well.
So it's a reason why several studies may clearly
show that, if you treat, it's cost-effective.
So we should continue.
Otherwise, we are going to lose all the benefit that has
been made all over the year.
We are starting to see that, if you treat HIV,
if you implement the treatment and organize the health
system in the country, there is a benefit, not only for HIV,
but it's also a decrease in tuberculosis
in those countries.
So it's the global health of those countries
which is improving.
When you go into the future, do you also
think it's important to know and understand
the history of HIV and AIDS?
The history of HIV and AIDS, it's very important, of course.
You know that IAS, we say-- over at the IAS,
"Stronger Together Against HIV."
And if I look back, in the early '80s,
we worked quite fast, after the discovery of the virus,
to develop the diagnostic test and then
to have the first treatment.
AZT showing that we can prevent mother-to-child transmission
by monotherapy?
And then to have the antiretroviral treatment
in '96.
How we have been so successful in only a few years
is because we were working all together.
So it's really something that I would like to push today,
as president of the IAS, to work better together as we
did in the early years.
The HIV Cure initiative, it's really the way we do.
It's try to stimulate, to promote networks
of collaboration at international level,
globally, multidisciplinary approach.
It's very important involving, of course,
scientists, social science, biomedical science,
but also communities.
We have to work together if we want
to be successful for the new tools
that we will have for the future.
Are you optimistic?
Oh, yes, I am.
I'm optimistic because I can see-- probably,
we feel that now that we know that, with the current tools
that we have, we can go turn the tide against HIV, against AIDS.
So I feel like I felt in the early years of HIV,
an atmosphere of solidarity, mobilization to end the AIDS
So I think it's a good time to do that
even if we know that it's not a good time
at the financial level.
But we know also that, when we work better together,
it's less costly.