Why I'm Wary of the Hype Surrounding HIV “Cures”

Alexander Cheves is a New York City-based writer whose work has appeared in Vice, Out Magazine, Pride, Gayety, Project Q, Fenuxe Magazine, and others. He answers reader-submitted sex questions on his blog, The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend, and writes the gay sex and dating column Sexy Beast for The Advocate.

12 years ago, Timothy Ray Brown, an HIV-positive cancer patient, received a blood stem cell transplant. Brown, who was later dubbed the “Berlin patient,” emerged from surgery free of cancer — and, to the world’s astonishment, free of HIV. Until recently, he was the only person known to be “cured” of the virus.

Then, earlier this month, news broke that a second man had been “cured.” This patient has yet to be identified, but the press wasted no time in calling him the “London Patient.”

Science Magazine asked, “Has a second person with HIV been cured?” “H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic,” ran the New York Times headline. (Pacific Standard ran a remembrance piece on the Berlin patient titled, “Remembering The First Time A Patient Was Cured of HIV.”)

Later that same week, a third person was claimed “cured.” “HIV patient in Dusseldorf could be third person ‘cured’ of virus after bone marrow transplant,” ran a headline in The Independent. “Two Men Might Be Second And Third To Be Cured Of HIV,” read a Kentucky news site.

This kind of hype is misleading and a little dangerous. No, the procedures these men endured are not “cures.”As Salon points out, these headlines remind the plague generation of the speculation around a possible “cure for AIDS” when protease inhibitors and AIDS cocktails were first introduced in 1996. They highlight the desperation for a cure that the horror of AIDS and the unconscionable deaths of more than 36 million people have created — desperation that can easily turn into panic and misinformation. Read more via them.us