In anticipation of the AIDS 2012 conference, to be held in Washington, D.C., from July 22-27, CDC Director Thomas Frieden spoke at the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies, where he provided an update on the epidemic in the U.S. and abroad, VOA News reports. Frieden provided statistics on HIV infection and death rates; recounted “trying to treat hundreds of patients in the early days of the epidemic,” before treatment was available; and said that “around the world, … HIV/AIDS remains the biggest infectious disease challenge more than 30 years into the epidemic,” the news service writes.
Global Health Conferences and Meetings
In the Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog, Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, notes that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the XIX International AIDS Conference in July that all women should be able to decide “when and whether to have children” and that PEPFAR, in a guidance [.pdf] released last week, said, “Voluntary family planning should be part of comprehensive quality care for persons living with HIV,” and referred to family planning as a human right. “Then, in bold type, they punctuated it with, ‘PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family planning commodities,’” she writes. “They take it a step further with a caveat that before anyone decides they’d like their program to have anything to do with family planning, they had best consult relevant U.S. legal counsel first,” she adds. “To be fair, they do say that PEPFAR programs can just refer women to a different program that offers family planning,” but those programs are not always available, Sippel writes, adding, “So the suggestion is flawed from the start.”
International AIDS Conference Must Focus On Combination Prevention Strategies To Fight AIDS Among Women
Highlighting statistics showing how HIV affects more women than men worldwide, Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), writes in a Huffington Post “Global Motherhood” blog post, “The XIX International AIDS Conference is coming to Washington, D.C., in two weeks and it must be different from its predecessors for one reason: HIV is now a woman’s plague.” She continues, “Our HIV policies and interventions have to respond accordingly or we will never create the AIDS-free generation that [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration have committed to build — where vertical transmission of HIV from a woman to her child is significantly reduced, where HIV-free girls and boys grow up with all the prevention options they need, and those who do acquire HIV have access to treatment.”
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).
“We are at a critical moment in the response to HIV and AIDS. Progress has been made but it is not enough and will be lost if political will and financial commitments are reduced. When lives are treated like political chattel, the importance of faith communities is more important than ever to sustain an effective response to HIV,” Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the United Church of Christ executive for health and wholeness advocacy and executive director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network, UCAN Inc., writes in the Washington Post’s “Guest Voices” blog. “Too many people hesitate to seek testing or treatment because of fear. That is why people of faith must continue breaking the silence in every way possible,” he says, adding, “We must ground ourselves in the value that every child is endowed by their creator with worth and dignity that human judgment cannot set aside.” Scheunemeyer continues, “Faith communities are called to deepen their theological reflection on human rights and dignity, particularly where HIV and AIDS is concerned. The door is open to people of faith to stand with all those who are living with or are vulnerable to HIV” (7/26).
A webcast titled “A Look Back: The International AIDS Conference,” moderated by journalist George Curry and featuring U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby; Phill Wilson, founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute; Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF); and Dazon Dixon Diallo, founder and president of SisterLove, will be available on the KFF webpage on Friday. “I feel a rekindling, a rejuvenation of energy, and I was not expecting that to happen. I felt a lightening of spirit in the meeting that I was surprised at,” Goosby says in the discussion (7/27).
“What stands out in my mind from this week’s presentations [at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)] is that [HIV] interventions previously proved to work in controlled clinical trials are now — over and over again — proving effective outside the research setting, in the real world, in poor and rich communities alike. The pieces are coming together,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. He discusses several of the interventions, including the scale up of antiretroviral therapy (ART), treatment as prevention, voluntary medical male circumcision, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). “Ending the HIV pandemic is an enormous and multifaceted challenge, but we know it is possible,” Fauci writes, adding that it will require “commitment” and “investments.” He continues, “We must enhance what works and eliminate what does not, overcome legal and political barriers, and remove the stigma associated with HIV.” Fauci concludes, “The global community has a historic opportunity based on solid scientific evidence to end the AIDS pandemic, opening the door to an AIDS-free generation” (7/26).
“[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).