AIDS today is a pandemic of unprecedented proportion. Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2008, says at the Lindau Meeting she had never imagined this pandemic when she initially started working on the virus in the early 1980s. The Nobel scientist shares this experience with patient counselors and physicians all around the globe. I have visited D. Gogoi, a patient counselor at the Anti-Retroviral Treatment center of Gauhati Medical College in Guwahati, Assam, India before my trip to Europe and the Lindau Meeting. His centre works under the National Aids Control Programme (NACO) of India. Gogoi sits in a desk surrounded by colorful posters on how AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) spreads and how it can be stopped.
She tells me, reminiscing her 20 years of service in that position, “We are doing our best; our control programs and treatment protocols are good, but the epidemic has not grown weaker. Sometimes when I feel that maybe the patient load is finally going to decrease, there is always this one patient who has been recently diagnosed with the malady, perhaps young and energetic, for whom the news of this will become the greatest turning point in his life. Many a times, I have personally escorted the victim to the psychiatry ward for a consultation before we start treatment.” HIV thus is a multifaceted problem complicated by cultural and emotional dimensions, and warranting a similarly unique strategy for its elimination. Whereas on one end we are on the edge of understanding the scientific complications underlying the mystery of the Berlin Patient, we have the vast range of behavioral interventions that we need to devise on political and social principles that would help us get ahead of the virus. Barre-Sinoussi was apt to point out the same on multiple occasions (and in her plenary session) along with the need for Scientific Activism to inspire the next generations, something she considers continuing even after her imminent retirement. Asked, what is the one suggestion that she wants to give to young scientists starting out their research careers, Barré-Sinoussi answered pointedly: “Persistence. Never give up and never stop believing that you will and can make a difference. There is no finish line. Even when we come up with a cure for HIV, that will still mean we can use HIV as a tool for studying other diseases.” Thus science must be above everything. Diseases do not know borders, and so we cannot afford to fight them as individual groups. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting 2014 is already proving a great inspiration for science on that theme. With people from across the globe discussing novel strategies to diagnose and know diseases, planning collaborations, discussing how others’ research can be helpful to their own and much more, I look forth to the remaining days of the meeting with inspiring and beautiful forays into the sea of science. [More about the laureates’ reflections of the disease problem and its solution strategies here and here]