School of Medicine Researchers Challenge HIV Terminology

Brandon Brown is a health services researcher and assistant professor in the Center for Healthy Communities.

The HIV cure research community often uses the term “eradication” – as in “eradicating the virus from the body.”

This is problematic, Brandon Brown of the School of Medicine and colleagues submit in a “debate paper” they published in the journal BMC Public Health.

“The term eradication is a misleading description of current HIV cure-related research,” said Brown, an assistant professor in the Center for Healthy Communities. “It creates unrealistic expectations, particularly among the estimated 36.7 million people globally who live with the virus.”

Eradication, Brown and his colleagues argue, requires perfection and is a distinct concept at the individual level and at the population level.  In the former case, it means eradication of the virus from the body; in the latter case, it means a permanent reduction to zero of the worldwide incidence of the virus.

“HIV cure research will not lead to disease eradication on a population level,” Brown said.  “Using eradication, often loosely, in this context is an example of overconfidence in biomedical approaches. We, therefore, favor the term ‘control’ on clinical and population levels because it avoids false hopes and expectations.  From a public health perspective, it is time to scale back the HIV eradication endeavor to focus instead on HIV control.”

Brown’s coauthors are scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass.; and UC San Diego.

Iqbal Pittalwala

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