The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is mainly transmitted via unprotected sex. Once in the body, HIV weakens our immune system, as a result of we are left barely protected against infections anymore. By funding research, we contribute to the prevention of HIV.

The causes and consequences of HIV

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The virus is not only transmitted via unprotected sex, but can also penetrate the body via a blood transfusion or organ transplantation. Pregnant women who are infected with HIV can also transmit the virus to their unborn child. As the virus weakens our immune system, it renders us extra vulnerable for various infections. In the worst case, HIV can cause AIDS. A genuine breakthrough in the treatment of HIV has not yet taken place. Therefore, we are currently encouraging research and the use of research results to better understand the transmission, disease progression and prevention of HIV and AIDS.

Prevention of HIV

Condoms remain the most important way of preventing STDs and HIV infections, since they are cheap and available everywhere. Even so, not everybody manages to consistently use them properly. An important strategy for preventing HIV and AIDS, besides condom use, is detecting and treating HIV infections as early as possible. The Netherlands therefore systematically screens risk groups.

Just like in many other infectious diseases, combating antimicrobial resistance is also important in preventing HIV. If a HIV patient starts to exhibit therapy failure (when a patient no longer consistently takes the medication), then HIV can become insensitive to the treatment.

HIV preventive measure PrEP

HIV inhibitors also provide protection. HIV inhibitors are used in various ways to prevent HIV infections:

  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). You use this after you have run a risk;
  • PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). You take this preventatively before you are at risk.

Several studies funded by us have recently been completed, such as the AMPrEP (Amsterdam PrEP) project. This project investigated the applicability and cost-effectiveness of PrEP for HIV prevention in the Netherlands. Therapy compliance was also a part of the research question. Due to the exceptional research results, AMPreEP received a ZonMw Pearl.

HIV and COVID-19 vaccination

The immune response of people who live with HIV (PLHIV) to coronavirus vaccines is unknown. This response could be reduced due to their immune status as a result of HIV. That has been observed for other vaccines. The research project COVIH studies the immune response to vaccination and maps the side effects. Read the blog of one of the researchers, Anna Roukens, internist-infectiologist at Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC).

Worldwide spotlight on HIV and AIDS

In the Netherlands, 21.517 people were infected with HIV in 2021, according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), especially men who have sex with men (MSM). Each year more than 40 people die in the Netherlands from the consequence of AIDS. To help combat HIV and AIDS, the international World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. This day is dedicated to raising awareness about AIDS, to the prevention of HIV and AIDS and to further research. On World AIDS Day 2019, the United Nations accorded extra attention to the important role communities play in tackling AIDS with its theme 'Communities make the difference'.

‘Difference between poor and rich in South Africa runs along ethnic lines’

Diseases like HIV are highly prevalent in South Africa because, at present, the supply of competent medical researchers there is far more limited than in the Netherlands. Furthermore, poverty and ethnic inequalities play a role in HIV prevention and treatment. In South Africa, Lucas Hermans studied whether HIV patients in developing countries receive better help if the doctors and nurses follow a new phased plan. 'In the Netherlands, life is far more controlled than in South Africa', says Hermans. 'In South Africa, the difference between poor and rich is significant, which is the legacy of apartheid, and it clearly runs along ethnic lines.' With the project ITREMA, Hermans and his colleagues developed a new working method for monitoring HIV therapy in developing countries. Read more about the project in this interview.



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