On the heels of President Donald Trump's decision to scale back U.S. assistance in combating global infectious disease epidemics, scientists are warning that a drug-resistant strain of HIV has been discovered in the Philippines, setting the stage for a potential epidemic.
According to The Independent, HIV has been spreading quickly in the Philippines even as rates in other countries are on the decline, and scientists believe this new strain of the virus, HIV subtype AE, might be the driving factor.
The strain is more aggressive, more resistant to antiretroviral drugs and progresses to Aids faster than the HIV subtype B generally found in western countries.
“The HIV virus has the potential to transform itself into a new and different virus each time it affects a cell,” Dr Edsel Salvana, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines told DW.
“There are nearly 100 different subtypes of HIV, with new subtypes being discovered every day."
Most of the available research is on subtype B, even though it makes up only about 12 percent of worldwide cases.
Dr Salvana added: “Those infected by the HIV subtype AE are younger, sicker patients who are more resistant to antiretroviral drugs. We are also seeing a faster progression to Aids under subtype AE.”
Research on subtype AE is urgently needed, Salvana said, and he cautioned that a global epidemic is possible if adequate measures are not taken.
There is reason to believe, however, that the U.S. might not take a leading role in the issue, if much a role at all. As The Washington Post noted earlier this year, the Trump administration is not placing global health as high a priority as it could.
There is cause for concern that the United States is scaling back efforts in various countries: deadly diseases and pathogens can spread from rural areas to major cities in less than a couple of days, quickly setting the stage for a global crisis.
"Global health organizations said critical momentum will be lost if epidemic prevention funding is reduced, leaving the world unprepared for the next outbreak. The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe."
The emergence of this treatment-resistant HIV subtype brings to the fore concerns that were shared with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in February, when more than 200 groups and companies petitioned for adequate global health program funding.
“Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operations, but the U.S. also stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research,” wrote the coalition, which included the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium and the Global Health Council.