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).
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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).
“It is outrageous that, in 2012, when we have everything we need to beat AIDS, we are still fighting prejudice, stigma, and exclusion,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes on the Human Rights and HIV/AIDS “Now More Than Ever” blog, adding, “It is my daily reminder that the AIDS response is not just about an epidemic; the AIDS response is, has been, and must be, an instrument to fight for social justice.” He concludes, “[O]ur common aspiration is clear: a world where no one gets infected with a preventable virus, no one dies of a treatable disease, and no one faces discrimination for a health condition. We have tools to stop HIV transmission, deaths and discrimination. Human rights demand that we deliver these tools to every community and person affected. By doing so, we help to transform societies into the inclusive places they should be” (7/25).
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).
ABC News’ “OTUS” blog features an interview with former first lady Laura Bush, who discusses the importance of foreign aid and how she and her husband, former President George W. Bush, “will be building off the success of [PEPFAR] and continuing to work to fight AIDS in Africa and worldwide,” including “help[ing] women in developing countries screen for cervical cancer” (Karl/Wolf, 7/25). Laura Bush is scheduled to speak at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) on Thursday, and a webcast of the session, “Leadership in the AIDS Response for Women,” will be available online from the Kaiser Family Foundation (7/26).
“For the first time in many years, a new message is on the lips of the people on the frontlines [of the AIDS response] — together, we will end AIDS,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Living” blog. He notes, “Just a decade ago, this very thought would have been dismissed,” and asks, “What has changed? Where has this hope come from?” He writes, “It comes from the resilience and steadfastness of the global community, led by people living with HIV, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, mothers, doctors, nurses, scientists, activists to halt the AIDS epidemic from defining our lives.” He provides a recap of the global response, highlighting results, investments, scientific progress, and the protection of human rights, and continues, “Above all, it is people who have changed the face of the AIDS epidemic.” He concludes, “We can end AIDS. We will end AIDS” (7/25).
AIDS 2012 Plenary Speakers Call For Expanded Efforts To Provide HIV Treatment, Prevention To Women, Children
AIDS experts speaking at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) on Wednesday called for an expansion of HIV care and treatment to all women instead of focusing only on those who are pregnant, the Associated Press reports. While many countries have programs to treat pregnant women with HIV infection with antiretroviral treatment (ART) to lessen the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, UNICEF Senior Programme Adviser Chewe Luo said at the plenary session that most countries do not continue providing ART after mothers wean their infants, the news service notes, adding, “She praised Malawi for starting to do just that” through a treatment initiative called Plan B+ (Neergaard, 7/25). According to the Guardian, the plan would add an additional $300 million to global treatment costs, but “people with HIV on treatment become far less likely to infect their partners, as well as their babies, so the additional outlay may be considered a good investment.” Luo said discussions with PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria about funding such programs are underway, the newspaper notes (Boseley, 7/25). In a satellite session on Tuesday, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe “commended countries and their international partners for recent progress in preventing new HIV infections among children and saving mothers’ lives,” health-e news reports (7/25).
Noting new guidelines released at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., this week “call for everybody with HIV to be started on antiretroviral drugs [ARVs] as soon as they test positive for the virus,” NPR’s “Shots” blog examines “whether the goal is achievable, and who would pay for this enormous expansion in treatment.” “Right now about eight million people across the world are getting treated for HIV at a cost of around $17 billion a year,” the blog writes, adding, “Universal treatment would cost another $22 billion, by some estimates.” The blog notes Bernhard Schwartlander, director for evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS, in a plenary speech at the conference on Tuesday “offered up several possible ways to raise the money,” including a tax on shipping and aviation fuel (Knox, 7/26).
Assistant Sec. Of Health Koh Addresses AIDS 2012 Plenary; HHS Sec. Sebelius Speaks At Washington Post Event
Speaking at the plenary session of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., on Monday, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh discussed the development and implementation of the United States’ first-ever comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, ABC News reports. “In the U.S., the burden of HIV is not shared equally, by population or region,” Koh said, according to the news service, which adds, “Addressing HIV-related health disparities is one of three overarching goals of the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy, along with reducing new infections and increasing access to HIV care.” About 50,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. annually, ABC notes (Duwell, 7/25). According to his speech transcript (.pdf), Koh said, “National strategies are critical to effective country leadership on HIV. National strategies outline a framework for responding to HIV/AIDS in ways that reflect each country’s unique epidemiology, disease burden, and trends. And they demonstrate the importance of country ownership and the need to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programs” (7/24).
“Much still needs to be done to get treatment to those who need it and to meet the UNAIDS-endorsed goal to achieve universal access by 2015, according to a new survey [.pdf] examining 25 HIV indicators assessing strategies, tools and policies to get the best HIV treatment to more people, sooner,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports (Mazzotta, 7/24). The report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), in collaboration with UNAIDS, “show[s] that governments have made improvements to get better antiretroviral treatment (ART) to more people, but implementation of innovative community-based strategies is lagging in some countries,” according to an MSF press release (7/24).