“Excitement about turning the tide in the fight against HIV is being tempered by researchers who worry some of the most vulnerable populations will miss out on medical advances,” delegates of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) heard at Thursday’s plenary session, VOA News reports (Seldin, 7/26). Ugandan physician Paul Semugoma, who works with homosexual and transgender patients, told the session that one of the biggest challenges is reaching people at risk of HIV infection with prevention information, especially when stigma and discrimination are prevalent, VOA says in another article (7/26). “Semugoma says too many physicians fail to ask their patients about their sexual histories in a misguided effort not to discriminate,” VOA writes (7/26). Researcher Cheryl Overs of Australia’s Monash University spoke about how discrimination and stigma hinder the AIDS response among sex workers, VOA reports in yet another article (Seldin, 7/26). Speaking about new HIV prevention methods, Overs said, “The risk to sex workers of all genders will be enormous if condoms are replaced by partially effective HIV methods that do not protect against STIs [i.e., sexually transmitted infections] or unwanted pregnancies,” according to the news service.
Global Health Conferences and Meetings
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).
“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).
“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).
The following webcasts are now available at http://www.kff.org/AIDS2012.
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).
WEBCAST: Kaiser Family Foundation Interviews Science's Jon Cohen Regarding HIV Treatment, Cure Research
“Science Magazine’s Jon Cohen speaks with the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jackie Judd about the ‘treatment cascade’ and about research aimed at finding a cure for HIV” in this interview in the foundation’s “Washington Notebook” series, PBS NewsHour reports (Rogo, 7/25). Additional “Washington Notebook” interviews with other newsmakers who attended the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) can be found on the foundation’s webpage.
“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).
“On Wednesday, July 25, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases [NTDs] co-chaired a panel at the [XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)], addressing the link between NTDs and HIV/AIDS,” the network’s “End the Neglect” blog reports. During the session, titled “Effective Solutions to Combat HIV: Increasing Evidence of the Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases on HIV Transmission and Disease Progression,” “members of the panel presented current research that has been conducted in Uganda and Brazil suggesting pathogenic links between NTDs such as schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis and HIV transmission and disease progression,” the blog notes (7/26).