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OPINION: U.S. Should Reconsider Ban On Funding Needle-Exchange Programs

Noting that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s special cabinet committee on AIDS in 1986 “decided there should be clean needle exchanges for injecting drug users (IDUs) to prevent the spread of HIV,” Norman Fowler, a member of the British House of Lords and former British health secretary, writes in The Hill’s “Congress Blog,” There is no question that needle exchanges and drug substitution have reduced HIV: only two percent of new infections in Britain now come through that route.” In addition, “The policy has neither encouraged drug taking nor crime. Similar reports come from other nations that have adopted this approach,” he says, continuing, “Tragically, not all nations have followed such a lead,” including the U.S. and the Ukraine. Fowler adds, “If the U.S. was to reconsider [its recently reinstated] ban [on funding domestic and international needle exchanges] and recognize that without needle-exchange programs it is impossible to provide full protection from the spread of HIV and the death and suffering that goes with it, it would send a message around the world” (7/20).

OPINION: PEPFAR Funding Trends 'Worrisome'

Michael Merson, director of the Duke Global Health Institute, writes in The Hill’s “Congress Blog” that much of the progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS “has been made — and the lives of millions of people saved — because of PEPFAR, … [t]he largest ever global investment in health by the United States government.” With PEPFAR’s “aggressive new goals” — to provide antiretroviral drugs to six million people in low- and middle-income countries, “fund 4.7 million male circumcisions and provide antiretroviral therapy to 1.5 million HIV-infected pregnant women by 2013” — “[w]e need to ask: Are we setting ambitious goals that we’re not prepared to fund or meet? Are we setting up one of our country’s greatest successes for failure?” Merson asks. He notes that “PEPFAR funding has flatlined despite these new targets and is not nearly enough to maintain progress and continue reducing new HIV/AIDS cases and deaths” and that “uncertainty” surrounds the “commitment by Congress” and the outcome of the presidential election. Saying that “PEPFAR itself also needs to continue to adjust its priorities,” Merson states that “treatment, prevention, care, health system capacity and scientific research to develop an HIV vaccine require financial commitment, strong political will and investment in resources from all stakeholders. Let us not fall behind now and bring back the suffering of the past” (7/20).

OPINION: Thanking U.S. Taxpayers For Their Contribution To Global Health

“[F]olks in Kansas City, Memphis, Selma, El Paso and all across America need to know that you are, indeed, keeping nearly six million men, women and children alive with your tax dollars,” Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in the Huffington Post “Impact” blog, adding, “Actually, the total is much larger than that, America, because six million is just the number of people that are every single day taking anti-HIV medicines that they receive through programs that you fund.” She notes that American tax money pays for HIV prevention campaigns worldwide and medical research on antiretroviral drugs, diagnostic tests and other advances. “Though other countries and private donors contribute to the prevention and treatment of AIDS, none can match the sheer scale of what America is doing,” Garrett writes, adding, “A mere $6.6 billion this fiscal year — out of a total U.S. budget of $3.8 trillion — is the cost of our modern day, life-giving packages.” She concludes, “That’s 0.16 percent of the federal budget, to save millions of lives. What a bargain” (7/20).

OPINION: Momentum In HIV/AIDS Fight Must Continue And Extend To Other Diseases

Noting the successes of PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, former President George W. Bush writes in a Washington Post opinion piece that “[a]n important byproduct of this massive effort on HIV/AIDS has been the improvement of African health systems,” which “has raised an exciting prospect: to extend the gains on AIDS to other diseases.” Bush also discusses his work with the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a public-private partnership initiative spearheaded by the Bush Institute to save women from breast and cervical cancer. Over the past decade a “global effort” has saved millions of lives, he says, adding, “It would be a sad and terrible thing if the world chose this moment to lose its focus and will.” Bush concludes, “Other countries and local governments in Africa can do more in providing resources and increasing funding … [b]ut to continue the momentum in the fight against AIDS, America must continue to lead” (7/22).

RECENT RELEASE: Kaiser Health News Interviews White House Senior Policy Advisor Ahead Of AIDS 2012

In this Kaiser Health News interview, KHN contributor Joanne Silberner talks with Gregg Millett, senior policy adviser in the Office of National AIDS Policy, ahead of the XIX International AIDS Conference. According to the transcript, Millett says “the president’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy has improved coordination among federal agencies and that the 2010 [Affordable Care Act] will improve access to care for those living with HIV/AIDS” (7/23). In related news, the White House on Saturday released five fact sheets covering HIV/AIDS prevention, HIV/AIDS treatment, the global AIDS epidemic, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination (7/21).

International Antiviral Society-USA Calls For Treatment For All Who Test HIV-Positive

“An international group of scientists on Sunday called for all adults who test positive for HIV to be treated with antiretroviral drugs right away rather than waiting for their immune systems to weaken,” Agence France-Presse reports. The guidelines, issued by the International Antiviral Society-USA, “are based on new trial data and drug regimens that have become available in the last two years which warrant an ‘update to guidelines for antiretroviral treatment in HIV-infected adults in resource-rich settings,'” the news agency writes (7/22). “In addition, data have shown that suppressing HIV reduces the risk of an infected person passing the virus to another person,” according to Reuters. The guidelines, which “echo those issued in March by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association at the start of the International AIDS Society’s 2012 conference, the news service notes (Beasley, 7/22).

Corporate Leaders Call On 46 Countries To Lift Travel Restrictions For People Living With HIV

Two dozen corporate leaders on Sunday signed a statement calling on 46 countries to lift restrictions on travelers who are living with HIV because the policies are discriminatory and bad for business, VOA’s “Breaking News” blog reports (7/22). Some corporations and organizations participating in the campaign include Levi Strauss, Anglo American, fashion merchants H&M and Gap, Coca-Cola, and pharmaceutical firms Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences and Merck, Agence France-Presse notes (7/22). According to an UNAIDS press release, “The pledge is an initiative of UNAIDS in partnership with GBCHealth, which is mobilizing the corporate signatures (7/22).

Sex Workers Hold AIDS 2012 'Hub' Conference In Kolkata, India

“Hundreds of sex workers from around the world who said they were denied visas to attend an international AIDS conference in the United States began their own meeting in Kolkata on Saturday in protest,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Some 550 representatives of sex workers from India and 41 other countries were attending the seven-day event in the eastern Indian city, organizers said,” the news agency writes (Sil, 7/21). The International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) “return[ed] to American soil for the first time in more than 20 years, in recognition of President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to lift the U.S. travel ban on people living with HIV,” the Guardian states, noting that “U.S. legislation still prohibits sex workers and drug users from entering the country.”