Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Tuesday the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted scientific and financial resources from the fight against AIDS, seriously impeding global efforts to achieve the U.N. goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
Fauci told the U.N. General Assembly that tackling COVID-19 has also disrupted supply chains and increased the risk for people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, of being infected with another deadly virus.
“To confront these challenges, we must intensify our collaborative research efforts and unclog supply chains through investment and regulatory action,” he said. “We also must assure that people with HIV in all countries have early access to effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics while their supply of anti- HIV drugs also is maintained.”
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to President Biden spoke at the assembly’s commemoration of World AIDS Day, which is Wednesday. The 40th anniversary of the first report that brought AIDS to the attention of the public was on June 5.
Fauci said he has been “deeply engaged” in responding to both the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics, and “they have stimulated responses we all can be proud of including remarkable scientific progress, global cooperation and widespread compassion, particularly in the distribution of life-saving AIDS medications.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “they also reveal that as a global society, we still are struggling with long-standing inequities in health care access, and very real health communication challenges linked in some countries to waning trust in core institutions.”
Fauci said in a recorded speech that much of what scientists and public health experts learned from their long investment in HIV/AIDS research “has been successfully applied to the COVID-19 pandemic.” He pointed to the design of drugs and the potential impact on survival of monoclonal antibodies, which can fight infections.
“Important discoveries stimulated by COVID-19 may also help us make progress against HIV/AIDS,” he said, singling out messenger RNA vaccines and the pool of substances that are effective in vaccines.
MRNA vaccines work by using a piece of genetic code from the spike protein of the coronavirus to train the immune system to generate a response. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines rely on mRNA.
Fauci said COVID-19 also showed how quickly scientists and public health officials can respond to counter a pandemic when there is substantial and sustained financial investment, “and perhaps most importantly, when governments and the private sector work together” and provide incentives for production.
Now, he said, the challenge for scientists, funders, and supporters of research “is to apply these lessons to fight against HIV/AIDS.”