“Despite pledges from governments across Eastern Europe and Central Asia to fight HIV/AIDS — one of the eight Millennium Development Goals — the region has the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic,” Inter Press Service reports in an article examining challenges to stemming the spread of the disease, particularly among injection drug users. “Punitive drug policies, discrimination and problems with access to medicines and important therapy are all driving an epidemic which is unlikely to be contained, world experts say, until governments in countries with the worst problems change key policies and approaches to the disease,” the news service writes. According to experts and activists, a lack of opiate-substitution therapy (OST) and needle-exchange programs, as well as discrimination against and “active persecution” of drug users who try to access therapy programs, contributes to the spread of HIV, IPS notes (Stracansky, 9/3).
Amanda Glassman, director of global health policy and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), and Kate McQueston, a program coordinator at CGD, write in the center’s “Global Health Policy” blog that a reduction in AIDS funding to Ethiopia from PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria “might be warranted due to epidemiological trends and improved efficiency, or might cripple progress as health programs dependent on external donors are cut back,” but “with the current poor status of basic information on beneficiaries and costs, it’s difficult to judge whether these cuts are good or bad.” They outline the history of AIDS funding in Ethiopia, posit what future funding might encompass, and say additional information is needed from PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and the Ethiopian government in order to know the true impacts of reduced funding (9/11).
“If left unaddressed, [non-communicable diseases (NCDs)] will lead to more death, disability and the implosion of already overburdened health systems in developing countries at huge cost to individuals, families, businesses and society,” Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former UNAIDS executive director, writes in the Huffington Post “Impact” blog, adding, “Like AIDS, NCDs are a problem for rich and poor countries alike, but the poor suffer the most.” He continues, “The 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on NCDs — only the second time the U.N. had convened a major meeting on a health issue, following the U.N. AIDS Summit in June 2001 — was a landmark event in the short history of the fight against NCDs but was not a tipping point. Much more remains to be done.”
Wednesday marked “the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are … speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked,” Patricia Coffey, head of the Maternal, Neonatal, and Reproductive Health Technologies Group at PATH, writes in USAID’s “Impact Blog,” adding, “Female condoms offer women — and men — dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV” (9/12). “Global Female Condom Day sounds whimsical, but the organizers have a serious purpose,” blog editor Kathleen Donnelly writes in the PATH Blog. She continues, “They want to draw attention to tools that ‘have the potential to revolutionize safer sex for diverse populations around the world'” (9/12).
Uganda Releases Strategy To Reduce HIV Infections; Activists Question Country's Ability To Meet Goals
“In response to rising HIV prevalence, Uganda’s government has announced a strategy to reduce new HIV infections by up to 30 percent by 2015, but activists have cast doubt on its ability to achieve this ambitious goal,” PlusNews reports. “In August, the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC) released a revised National HIV Prevention Strategy aimed at ‘increasing the adoption of safer sexual behavior and reduction of risk-taking behavior, attaining critical coverage of effective HIV prevention service, creating a sustainable enabling environment that mitigates the underlying structural drivers of the epidemic, re-engaging leadership and energizing coordination of HIV prevention, and improving strategic information on HIV prevention,'” the news service writes. “The Ministry of Health also plans to improve the quality and coverage of HIV counseling and testing, increase condom use, fast-track the rollout of safe male circumcision to reach 4.2 million men by 2015, expand antiretroviral treatment as HIV prevention, and increase the coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services from 52 percent to 75 percent,” PlusNews notes.
The Economist reports on a demonstration by about 300 people living with HIV and activists outside the headquarters of China’s Henan provincial government in Zhengzhou on August 27. “Many of the … participants were infected in government-backed blood-selling schemes in the 1990s,” the magazine writes, adding, “Tens of thousands contracted HIV this way. The government has never admitted responsibility.” According to the Economist, “As the Communist Party prepares for an imminent leadership change it is more than usually anxious to keep the AIDS scandal quiet.”
VOA News examines AIDS among high-risk groups in Burma, also known as Myanmar. “Burma’s AIDS epidemic mostly affects marginalized groups, such as the gay community,” the news service writes, adding, “About one percent of Burma’s population is HIV-positive,” but “[a]mong high-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men, health workers estimate as many as 11 percent have HIV.” The news service notes, “While Burma’s National AIDS Plan has helped stem new infections, it offers almost no help for marginalized groups already living with HIV.”
“A paper published in Nature [on Monday] sheds light on how a vaccine can turn the immune system against [HIV] and so offer protection from infection,” Nature News reports, noting “[t]he results are also being presented at the AIDS Vaccine 2012 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, this week” (Callaway, 9/10). Previous results from a trial called RV144 showed that two vaccines, Sanofi’s Alvac and VaxGen’s Aidsvax, reduced the risk of HIV infection by 31 percent over three years when used together, compared with people who received a placebo, according to Bloomberg (Bennett, 9/10). Last year, researchers showed “that those who responded to the vaccine and fended off HIV tended to produce antibodies against a specific part of the virus’s protein shell called the V1/V2 loop,” Nature News writes, adding, “The study published [Monday] goes a stage further, showing that the people who were vaccinated yet still contracted HIV had been infected by viruses that had mutations in the V2 portion.”
Devex News Analysis Examines Democratic, Republican Party Platforms On Foreign Policy, Including Global Health
A Devex news analysis examines the Democratic and Republican platform positions on foreign policy following the party conventions, writing, “Even as pocketbook concerns continue to overshadow foreign policy issues on the campaign trail, in both Charlotte and Tampa, top-billed speakers made the case for the U.S. foreign aid program.” The article examines the core principles of each platform, notes that neither platform offers specifics on foreign aid spending, and discusses the platforms’ stances on certain foreign policy issues, including global health, food security, climate change, and gay rights.
“Kenya has launched an investigation after researchers claimed HIV-positive women were being routinely sterilized without their consent in government hospitals,” the Guardian reports. The African Gender and Media Initiative issued a report “based on interviews with 40 women, suggest[ing] the practice was widespread and ongoing,” according to the newspaper. “The report also includes examples of coercive tactics used by medical staff to obtain consent — for instance, threatening to withhold antiretroviral medication or baby milk if the woman did not agree to the procedure,” the newspaper writes. “‘These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,’ Shariff Shahnaz, the director of public health, told the Daily Nation newspaper,” the Guardian reports (Mojtehedzadeh, 9/4).