HIV drugs have not only “transformed a fatal disease into a chronic one,” but “[t]hey have also made HIV a big business,” this Economist editorial states. The editorial examines the market for HIV drugs, writing, “The market is as unusual as it is large, both buoyed by government support and worryingly dependent on it. The past decade has brought fancier medicine in rich countries and copious aid for poor ones. But the war is far from won.” The editorial writes, “In total, public and private investment has yielded more than two dozen HIV drugs,” adding, “Sales of antiretroviral drugs in America and the five biggest European markets reached $13.3 billion in 2011, according to Datamonitor, a research outfit.”
Access to Health Services
Seriously Ill Children Administered Zinc In Addition To Antibiotics Respond Better, More Quickly To Treatment, Study Shows
“In a newly released clinical study, conducted in India” and published in the Lancet on Thursday, “hundreds of seriously ill infants who received zinc — an essential micronutrient for the immune system and human growth — as well as antibiotics, responded better and more quickly to treatment than those who did not,” IRIN reports, adding, “This finding is the first proof that zinc supplements may boost infant survival from infections.” According to the news service, “More than 300 infants no older than 120 days (four months), hospitalized in New Delhi, the capital, for suspected meningitis (an infection of the brain or spinal cord lining), pneumonia (a lung infection) or sepsis (blood poisoning), were given zinc in addition to antibiotics” and “were found to be 40 percent less likely to experience ‘treatment failure’ — needing a second antibiotic within one week of the first treatment, or intensive care or death within 21 days — than those given a placebo.”
Trade officials met last week at the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization “to make progress on a proposal that would allow poor countries to provide inexpensive generic versions of lifesaving medications, rather than rely a single version of the same drugs under expensive patent monopolies,” but the U.S. “remained steadfast in rejecting proposals aimed at lowering the prices of existing medicines in poor countries,” the Huffington Post reports (Carter, 5/29). At the 18th session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), delegates considered two proposals, according to Intellectual Property Watch. The news service notes that a South African proposal (.pdf), submitted on behalf of the African Group and the Development Agenda Group (DAG), would have assisted developing nations adapt their patent schemes “to make full use of the flexibilities available in the international patent system in the interest of public health,” and a U.S. proposal (.pdf) “warned against any weakening of patent protection as a solution to the lack of availability of medicine in developing countries” because, “the delegate said, less patent rights would be detrimental to innovation” (Saez, 5/25).
Citing a U.N. report released in May, titled “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010,” which shows “the number of women worldwide dying of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in the last 20 years,” Agnes Odhiambo, a researcher for women in Africa at Human Rights Watch, writes in this Inter Press Service opinion piece, “Although there was a 41 percent reduction in sub-Saharan Africa, the progress is slow and uneven. â€¦ Greater effort is urgently needed to save pregnant women.” She continues, “African governments need to invest in strong health care systems and to ensure that there are enough health care facilities that can provide emergency obstetric care, equitably dispense suitable drugs and supplies, and employ a sufficient number of adequately trained health professionals, including those with midwifery skills.”
In a guest blog post on the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks,” Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, and Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, summarize a Capitol Hill briefing “on the research agenda for beginning to end the AIDS epidemic” that took place Wednesday. “[R]esearchers, policymakers, and advocates joined our organizations and the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus” at the briefing to discuss “the research agenda needed to bring the epidemic to a close, with special focus on” combination interventions for treatment and prevention; “progress on vaccine and cure research”; and the importance of HIV testing, they write. Collins and Warren conclude, “We need to finance the response, make strategic choices about what to bring to scale (and what not to) and stop discriminating against high-risk populations. Whether you’re a researcher, policymaker or advocate, new scientific developments are how we end the epidemic” (5/24).
UNAIDS and PEPFAR recently brought together the ministers of health and representatives of the 22 countries with the most new HIV cases among children to discuss progress on the Global Plan towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive agreed to at the 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on AIDS, according to a UNAIDS press release. Though “great strides have been made in reducing HIV infections among women of reproductive age and expanding access to antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women living with HIV, … progress is not being scaled up as quickly on meeting the family planning needs of women living with HIV, preventing maternal mortality and ensuring that all children living with HIV have access to antiretroviral therapy,” according to UNAIDS. “The meeting was the first annual face-to-face gathering of representatives from the 22 focus countries since the launch of the Global Plan,” the press release notes (5/23).
U.N. SG Ban Praises Commission On Life-Saving Commodities, Says More Effort Needed To Improve Maternal, Child Mortality Rates
At the opening of the U.N. Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the commission but “said that much remains to be done to save the lives of the 800 women and more than 20,000 children who die every day from preventable causes,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/22). Devex notes that the commission “aims to increase access to lifesaving medicine and health supplies, … includ[ing] oxytocin, which helps stop bleeding among mothers after giving birth, and antibiotics such as amoxicillin, which treats pneumonia among newborns.” The commission finalized its recommendations on Tuesday, the news service notes (Ravelo, 5/23).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published on its website a transcript of a speech about women’s health, delivered by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the World Medical Association in Geneva on Tuesday. “For too long, too many women and girls have had their lives marred by illness or disability, just because they didn’t have access to health services. When we deprive women of the care and support they need to stay healthy or get well, we’re also robbing them of hope for the future. … So under President Obama, we’re putting a new focus on women’s health — at home and abroad,” she said, according to the transcript (5/22).
“U.N. Development Goals for better drinking water have already been reached, but a closer look shows that the measures fail to truly account for the lack of access to safe water,” Scientific American reports in a feature story. “[J]ust because water is pouring out of a spigot does not mean that it is safe to drink,” the article states, adding, “In poorer areas, where infrastructure and sanitation are often much worse, even sources of water that have been ‘improved’ are frequently at risk for contamination by human and animal feces, according to recent analyses.” The magazine details a number of studies on the issue and concludes, “[W]hether there are 800 million or 1.8 billion people who lack safe water, the scourge of preventable deadly diarrheal and other waterborne diseases will continue to plague too many” (Harmon, 5/21).
“Opening the 65th annual World Health Assembly (WHA) [on Monday in Geneva], World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said she sees a bright future for health development, despite financial crises that many countries are facing, which has shrunk support for many initiatives,” CIDRAP News reports. According to the news service, “Chan said the WHO can leverage its leadership role to make the most of small and wise investments” and that “[u]niversal health coverage is the best way to maintain health gains that have been made over the past decade” (Schnirring, 5/21). Focusing on innovations that bring social benefit rather than profit, as well as research and development into new treatments, also are important, Chan noted, Devex reports (Ravelo, 5/22).