(BPT) In the late 1980s, Dr. Kimberly Smith was studying medicine at the University of Michigan. It was early in the AIDS epidemic but increasing numbers of cases were coming in.
“There was confusion, fear and chaos — we were just beginning to learn about the disease, we had no form of treatment, and we had no idea what kind of devastation the disease would have on families and communities,” she said.
Since those early days of the epidemic, Dr. Smith has spent much of her career as a researcher studying HIV and its treatment and as a physician caring for people living with HIV in Chicago. She now serves as the Vice President and Head of Global Research and Medical Strategy for ViiV Healthcare, a pharmaceutical company celebrating 10 years supporting and developing medicines solely for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“The progress has been amazing,” said Dr. Smith. “Thanks to the perseverance of countless advocates and dedicated efforts of the medical community, our understanding of the HIV virus, how it’s transmitted and how to treat it has grown tremendously.”
Today, an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence and people living with HIV are leading longer and healthier lives. In fact, thanks to highly effective antiretroviral treatments, those living with HIV who have access to treatment can expect to live nearly as long as the general population. That means they can focus on aging well — including good nutrition, regular exercise and stress reduction — alongside lifelong antiretroviral treatment to achieve and maintain viral suppression, or when the amount of virus in the blood is lowered to levels that are undetectable by standard tests.
As the needs of people living with HIV have evolved, so has innovation. Over the past 30 years, science and disease management approaches have transformed from treatment to reducing transmission rates. Now, clinicians and researchers are focused on addressing the quality of life challenges that remain, namely those associated with stigma and the overall impact of lifelong therapy.
In a global survey of more than 1,100 people living with HIV, 72 percent of respondents said they sometimes worry about the long-term effects of HIV medicines, yet only 26 percent discussed these concerns with their doctor. As people living with HIV age, they will likely face associated health conditions that may lead to needing more medications, in addition to their daily HIV treatment regimen.
“This is a new era and people living with HIV, along with their doctors, have more choices,” said Dr. Smith. “Healthcare providers can work to ensure treatment regimens align with a patient’s health history and long-term health goals. They can select an HIV treatment option that maintains viral suppression while helping patients achieve their health goals and addressing important factors like tolerability and convenience.”
For Dr. Smith, reflecting on the remarkable progress made to date serves as motivation to advance different approaches that improve lives and meet the needs of people living with HIV.
“Scientific innovation and research in HIV have shifted to focus more on the needs of people living with the virus. 2019 will be a critical year with many advancements on the horizon that aim to lessen the lifetime burden of therapy on people living with HIV. Through these efforts, we are addressing the challenges of today’s patient and striving to make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives.”
To learn more about ViiV Healthcare and the HIV community, visit https://www.viivhealthcare.com/en-us/.
 Samji H, et al. Closing the Gap: Increases in Life Expectancy among Treated HIV-Positive Individuals in the United States and Canada. PLOS One. 2013; 8 doi: 10.1371. Accessed January 23, 2019. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24367482?dopt=Abstract.
 Positive Perspective Survey, 2017. ViiV Data on File. Available at: http://gskvideo.edgesuite.net/Viiv/viivhealthcare/pdf_files/master/main/positive-perspectives-survey-report-finalcompressed.pdf.