“HIV is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age,” and without HIV, “maternal mortality worldwide would be 20 percent lower,” Lucy Chesire, executive director and secretary to the Board of the TB ACTION Group, writes in the Huffington Post’s “The Big Push” blog. She says that women “often face barriers accessing HIV treatment and care,” adding she recently “was struck with the significant role the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] has played in reducing women’s barriers to treatment.”
Access to Health Services
Leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1, the AIDS.gov blog published several pieces discussing progress in reaching the goal of an AIDS-free generation. The pieces are summarized below.
UNAIDS and the Stop TB Partnership on Tuesday launched an “initiative aimed at reducing HIV deaths caused by tuberculosis (TB) by half” by 2015, the U.N. News Centre reports (11/27). The memorandum of understanding signed by the groups states they will “take action … to strategically address the intolerable burden of TB mortality borne by people living with HIV,” according to a UNAIDS press release. “The two organizations are developing a detailed work plan and have committed to collaboration to achieve three main objectives within the next three years: increase political commitment and resource mobilization for TB/HIV; strengthen knowledge, capacity and engagement of civil society organizations, affected communities and the private sector; and help most-affected countries integrate TB/HIV services,” the press release continues (11/27). “TB/HIV is a deadly combination. We can stop people from dying of HIV/TB co-infection through integration and simplification of HIV and TB services,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, according to the U.N. News Centre (11/27).
Pharma Companies Improving Access To Medicines But Lack Oversight Of Outsourced Clinical Trials, Analysis Says
Pharmaceutical companies are showing “greater accountability in the boardroom today over access to medicines, with more openness, targets and investment in drugs relevant to the poor,” but they “show no evidence that they adequately supervise the conduct of outsourced clinical drug trials, according to a new analysis released on Wednesday,” the Financial Times reports (Jack, 11/28). Published every two years, the Access to Medicine Index “ranks the world’s 20 biggest drug companies,” BBC News notes, adding, “GlaxoSmithKline remains at the top of the index, followed closely by Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi.”
AVAC Report Calls For Greater Access To Combination Prevention Strategies, Protection Of Research Funding
AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention on Tuesday “released its annual report that calls for an ambitious pace of funding, implementation, and research,” VOA News reports, noting the report, titled “Achieving the End: One Year and Counting,” “calls for a three-part agenda for ending AIDS: Deliver, Demonstrate, and Develop” (DeCapua, 11/27). The report’s recommendations “address urgent, unresolved challenges that threaten the delivery of powerful new HIV prevention methods that could help dramatically reduce the 2.5 million new HIV infections that occur worldwide every year,” an AVAC press release states, continuing, “They include critical actions to speed access to HIV treatment, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and to safeguard vital new research on vaccines, microbicides, other HIV prevention options and a cure.” According to the press release, AVAC Executive Director Mitchell Warren said, “Right now, the world isn’t moving as fast as it should be to begin ending the epidemic. There is still time to get back on a winning pace but only with focused, aggressive action now. This can be the year that HIV prevention begins to achieve its potential — in fact, it has to be” (11/27).
In the Huffington Post’s “Healthy Living” blog, Ward Cates, president emeritus of FHI 360, examines the HIV treatment cascade, which he says “is crucial both to assuring the individual’s health and to achieving the public health goal of an AIDS-free generation.” The first step in the cascade is HIV testing, which determines whether an individual should be referred for and receive HIV care and treatment, he notes, adding, “We can use the cascade model to help gain accurate assessments of the ‘leakage points’ in the HIV care and treatment system. By knowing where in the cascade we need to focus, we can provide additional incentives for patients and resources for providers to improve retention.” Cates describes several novel prevention technologies, highlights programs in different countries working to bring people into the cascade, and concludes, “As we pause to reflect on 2012’s World AIDS Day, let’s resolve to get everyone on board to make the most of the tools we have. We can conquer this disease” (11/27).
“Eliminating the worldwide shortage of eyeglasses could cost up to $28 billion, but would add more than $200 billion to the global economy, according to a study” conducted by researchers from Australia and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published last month in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, the New York Times reports. “The authors assumed that 703 million people worldwide have uncorrected nearsightedness or farsightedness severe enough to impair their work, and that 80 percent of them could be helped with off-the-rack glasses, which would need to be replaced every five years,” the newspaper writes, noting, “The $28 billion would cover the cost of training 65,000 optometrists and equipping clinics where they could prescribe eyeglasses, which can now be mass-produced for as little as $2 a pair” (McNeil, 11/26).
“In October 1987, Roy Vagelos, then the chief executive of [pharmaceutical company] Merck, launched the largest pharmaco-philanthropic venture ever,” William Foege, an epidemiologist and former director of the CDC, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece highlighting the company’s efforts to combat onchocerciasis in the developing world through the free distribution of its drug Mectizan. Initially developed to protect dogs against heartworms, Merck found a human version of the drug “could inhibit the microfilaria of onchocerciasis for a year with a single dose,” Foege continues, adding, “Merck said that it would supply the drug as long as it was needed. Extended surveillance has shown this to be one of the safest drugs ever developed.”
BBC News examines “a worrying drop in the effectiveness of the artemisinin-based drugs” against malaria along the Cambodian-Thai border, and how clinics are attempting to combat the trend by offering monetary incentives to patients to complete treatment regimens. “Thanks to the efforts of health workers … , and the widespread availability of treatment, malaria still only kills a handful of people in Thailand each year,” according to the BBC. “The focus now is on trying to monitor and contain artemisinin drug resistance into a few hotspots, prolonging the drug’s effective lifespan globally until alternative treatments are available,” the news service writes, adding, “Africa’s hopes of maintaining its progress rests firmly on South East Asia’s efforts.” Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, executive director of Roll Back Malaria and the former health minister of Mali, said if drug-resistant malaria reached Africa, it would be a “massive crisis” because there is not an alternative drug to the usually highly effective artemisinin-based drugs, according to BBC (Fisher, 11/22).
“I spent most of my time this year advocating for better access to family planning around the world,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a Foreign Policy 2012 Global Thinker, writes in this Foreign Policy opinion piece. “Early on, I told everybody who would listen that I wanted to help put contraceptives back on top of the global health and development agenda,” she states, adding, “Visiting women in developing countries, however, I realized that this framing didn’t quite capture my message. … What was missing were human beings, the women across the world who have told me over and over again that having access to birth control methods that work for them would change their futures.”