In this post in BMJ’s “Yankee Doodling,” Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist at RTI International and an associate editor for the journal, reflects on the possibility of achieving an AIDS-free generation “if somehow we succeeded in getting all HIV positive people in the world identified and under long term treatment.” He writes that while there has been “astonishing progress against AIDS,” “two concerns immediately arise: the magnitude of the work remaining to find and continuously treat all those infected, and the confusion between that treatment (even if it is somehow universally successful) and actual eradication of the disease.” He concludes, “It is a rosy scenario, but even if it came true it still would not spell the end of the HIV story,” because “[w]e have no vaccine, and the virus keeps mutating” (8/14).
Global Health Conferences and Meetings
The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog examines how the “U.S. travel bans on people involved in sex work and people who have used illegal drugs … kept many of the people at highest risk from coming to the [XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)]” in Washington, D.C., last month. “The result, observers said afterward, was a larger conference with fewer sex workers than had brought their first-hand experiences and concerns to Vienna and Mexico City,” according to the blog. Carlos Laudari, senior technical adviser for HIV AIDS prevention at Pathfinder, “and others said those in absentia were not the only ones disempowered; the loss of sex worker and drug user input on how to realize the goals of treatment as prevention, on barriers to funding, testing, health care access, and for that matter, on the difference between sex work and sex trafficking — commonly, and erroneously equated — weakened the dialogue and the action they were intended to inform,” the blog writes and quotes several other advocates (Barton, 8/8).
In this post in Huffington Post’s “Healthy Living” blog, John-Manuel Andriote, a journalist and author living with HIV, writes, “For all of us living with HIV infection — Oct. 27 will mark seven years since my own diagnosis — the question we face daily, hopefully more consciously and deliberately than most, is how shall we live, knowing as we do that we will most assuredly die one day?” Reflecting on the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) that took place in Washington last month, he continues, “An AIDS-free generation is certainly a worthy goal,” but “even if tens of billions of additional dollars are allocated to address HIV/AIDS, even if the Republicans don’t succeed in inflicting their Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ upon the nation and the world, the question will continue to be what it has been for 31 years … Will we have the political will to end AIDS?”
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).
Two studies presented at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) and one published Wednesday in the British journal Nature “have given researchers renewed hope that a cure for AIDS may be possible,” the Washington Post reports. “None of the strategies are easy, proved or ready for prime time,” but “all involve procedures or drugs that are already in use and are able to be deployed widely if further research bears out the early findings,” the newspaper writes (Brown/Botelho, 7/26). “One study focused on a group of 12 patients in France who began treatment on antiretroviral drugs within 10 weeks of becoming infected with human immunodeficiency virus, but then stopped the therapy” after an average of three years of treatment, Agence France-Presse writes (Sheridan/Santini, 7/26). According to a conference press release, the patients “have shown no signs of a resurgence of their HIV infection” six years after stopping therapy (7/26). “The work is further evidence that people should be given drugs as soon as possible,” the Guardian adds (Boseley, 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).
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) “announced Thursday that he would release his hold on the $250 million meant to go from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,” saying “he was swayed by conversations at the International AIDS Conference [AIDS 2012] under way in Washington, D.C.,” The Hill’s “Healthwatch” blog reports (Viebeck, 7/26). “My biggest concern about the transfer was the shortfalls this may cause in our bilateral efforts to combat HIV/AIDS,” Lugar said, according to a press release from the senator’s office (7/26). “‘The leaders I met with this week expressed their confidence that the money is a worthy investment, and, given their strong leadership, I have decided to lift my hold on the transfer funds,’ Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a written statement,” CQ HealthBeat notes (Ethridge/Cadei, 7/26). In related news, the U.S. Senate on Thursday introduced and passed a resolution “expressing support for the XIX International AIDS Conference and the sense of the Senate that continued commitment by the United States to HIV/AIDS research, prevention, and treatment programs is crucial to protecting global health,” the New York Times’ “Inside Congress” reports (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).