The London Summit on Family Planning took place Wednesday, also recognized as World Population Day. The goal of the summit was to raise money to improve access to family planning services to prevent maternal and child mortality. The following summaries describe opinion pieces that address these issues.
Access to Health Services
In this post in GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog, Katherine Record, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, explains “[w]hy the wall between the scientific advancements in AIDS treatment and the treatment itself needs to be broken down in order to truly achieve an ‘AIDS-free generation.'” She writes, “The U.S. is pushing its patent laws on trade partners, forcing them to adopt the most robust and longest monopoly rights in the world,” adding, “The result is a move away from the World Trade Organization’s safeguards against prohibitive pricing of lifesaving drugs in low-income nations, deferring any hope of an ‘AIDS-free generation.'”
Describing PEPFAR as “a targeted approach on a large-scale and with accountability for results,” U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby on Tuesday said the program has done more than fight HIV/AIDS, having had a “broader transformational impact … on the health sector” in many countries, VOA News reports (De Capua, 7/10). Goosby delivered the keynote address at a Health Affairs briefing titled, “Assessing The President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief: Past Achievements And Future Prospects For PEPFAR,” according to a State Department video of his remarks (7/10). The July 2012 issue of Health Affairs “examines the origins of [PEPFAR]; the lessons learned from implementation; the successes achieved in terms of human health and well-being; and the opportunities that now exist to lay the groundwork for an ‘AIDS-free generation,'” the Health Affairs Blog states (Fleming, 7/10).
“Voluntary family planning services will reach an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries by 2020 thanks to a new set of commitments announced [at the London Summit on Family Planning on Wednesday] by more than 150 leaders from donor and developing countries, international agencies, civil society, foundations and the private sector,” a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation press release reports (7/11). Donors “pledged $2.6 billion over the next eight years at [the summit], in what was described as a breakthrough for the world’s poorest women and girls,” the Guardian writes, adding, “More than 20 developing countries made commitments to boost spending on family planning and to strengthen women’s rights to ease their access to contraception” (Tran, 7/11). Speaking at the summit, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, announced the foundation “will spend more than $1 billion over the next eight years to increase access to contraceptives in the developing world and research new methods of birth control” and “outlined several of the initiatives [the foundation] will focus on in the coming years, including efforts to bring down the cost of birth control so that it will be within reach of the world’s poorest women,” the Seattle Times notes (Doughton, 7/11).
On World Population Day, observed on Wednesday, July 11, the U.K. Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-hosted the London Summit on Family Planning. The following are summaries of blog posts addressing the summit.
As the XIX International AIDS Conference concludes in Washington, D.C., “[t]his is a moment for all Americans to be proud of the best thing George W. Bush did as president: launching an initiative to combat AIDS in Africa that has saved millions of lives,” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson states in an opinion piece in the newspaper. PEPFAR “deserves accolades,” he writes, adding that the Bush administration ignored dissenting opinions stating that treatment in Africa posed a risk because of potential drug resistance and was motivated “by altruism” to create the program. Robinson notes that the Obama administration has proposed shifting funds from PEPFAR to “complementary programs” and that officials say “that overall HIV/AIDS funding will rise to an all-time high.” He also notes that Obama ended restrictions on allowing visas for people living with HIV to enter the country during his first year in office. “But if Africa is gaining ground against AIDS, history will note that it was Bush, more than any other individual, who turned the tide. The man who called himself the Decider will be held accountable for a host of calamitous decisions. But for opening his heart to Africa, he deserves nothing but gratitude and praise,” Robinson concludes (7/26).
NPR continues its coverage of issues being discussed at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) with several stories on its health blog and radio programs. On Thursday, “Tell Me More” host Michel Martin spoke with Teguest Guerma, the first woman director general of the African Medical and Research Fund (AMREF) about how African nations are responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how they are working “to find the solutions ourselves, with the support of the international community,” Guerma said, according to the program’s transcript (7/26). On “All Things Considered,” correspondent Jason Beaubien reports on how South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province is responding to high rates of HIV and tuberculosis (7/26). NPR’s “Shots” blog reports on Alexandra Volgina, who won a Red Ribbon Award for her efforts to raise awareness about drug shortages in Russia and prompting the Ministry of Health to respond (Doucleff, 7/26).
The Economist on Friday published two articles from Saturday’s print edition regarding the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012). One article states that “[f]ew areas of international affairs have seen more recent success than the fight against AIDS,” and discusses advancements in HIV treatment research and availability (7/28). A second article provides a recap of several studies presented at the conference, notes “some people are starting to look beyond [current] antiretroviral (ARV) drugs,” and writes, “Several clues suggest a cure may be possible” (7/28). In a related post, the Economist’s “Babbage” blog reports on new tuberculosis (TB) research presented at the conference on Monday, which “found that a combination of one experimental drug, one drug approved for other infectious diseases and one existing TB drug had a comparable effect to standard TB treatment,” suggesting “the combination may fight some TB strains resistant to other drugs — and do so quite quickly” (7/26).
“Excitement about turning the tide in the fight against HIV is being tempered by researchers who worry some of the most vulnerable populations will miss out on medical advances,” delegates of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) heard at Thursday’s plenary session, VOA News reports (Seldin, 7/26). Ugandan physician Paul Semugoma, who works with homosexual and transgender patients, told the session that one of the biggest challenges is reaching people at risk of HIV infection with prevention information, especially when stigma and discrimination are prevalent, VOA says in another article (7/26). “Semugoma says too many physicians fail to ask their patients about their sexual histories in a misguided effort not to discriminate,” VOA writes (7/26). Researcher Cheryl Overs of Australia’s Monash University spoke about how discrimination and stigma hinder the AIDS response among sex workers, VOA reports in yet another article (Seldin, 7/26). Speaking about new HIV prevention methods, Overs said, “The risk to sex workers of all genders will be enormous if condoms are replaced by partially effective HIV methods that do not protect against STIs [i.e., sexually transmitted infections] or unwanted pregnancies,” according to the news service.
“[M]any health systems are not ready to cope with th[e] relatively new phenomenon” of people living with HIV (PLHIV) growing older, PlusNews reports. “Data on aging with HIV is largely restricted to the developed world and very little is known about older Africans living with virus, despite the high caseload in this region,” the news service writes, adding, “A July 2012 supplement of the medical journal, AIDS, notes that an estimated three million people in sub-Saharan Africa aged 50 and older are HIV-positive — 14 percent of all infected adults (7/26). In the U.S., people aged 50 and older accounted for 17 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2009, according to the CDC, the Associated Press adds. The news service notes about one-third of the nearly 1.2 million PLHIV in the U.S. are older than 50, and that proportion will rise to one half by 2020, according to Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP), who spoke at one of several sessions on aging at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) (Neergaard, 7/26).