The AIDS epidemic that threatened to spread all over the world in the 1980s is now mostly controllable in affluent western countries. Development of effective anti-AIDS drugs slows the progression of the disease so that people can live with HIV infection and lead relatively normal lives.
In the developing world, things are very different. Since 1998, the World Health Organisation has been running its "3 by 5" initiative to supply 3 million people in the third world with antiretroviral drugs to curb the dreadful loss of life. In all the tragedy, some hope though. The virus that causes AIDS, the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has some proteins that are very similar to proteins found in the parasite that causes malaria. This disease is also rife in the developing world and many people who are infected with HIV also suffer bouts of malaria.
This study showed that six of the drugs used to keep HIV in check also slow down the growth of the parasite Plasmodium faciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. Which means that the drugs can be dual purpose and may help protect people from both diseases. Another advantage is that anti-HIV drugs can be given to pregnant women quite safely. The usual drugs used to treat malaria can’t, as they are dangerous to the unborn child. Having new treatment options is also a plus because of the way the malaria parasite has become resistant to many of the commonly used drugs. There is currently no vaccine, or prospect of a vaccine for malaria and chloroquinine-resistance is so common in some areas that it cannot be used.
Research is still active and is focussing on trying to find the best combination of drugs to give to people infected by the malaria parasite and HIV. The drugs ritonavir with either saquinavir or lopinavir are thought to be the most likely for early human trials.