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Misconception That Syphilis Has ‘Disappeared’ Presents Major Impediment To Preventing Infant Deaths

In this Globe and Mail opinion piece, columnist Andre Picard examines the efforts of a new group, the Global Congenital Syphilis Partnership — which includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Save The Children, the CDC, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the WHO — to “make screening for syphilis a routine part of pregnancy care with the goal of eliminating congenital syphilis.” Picard writes, “According to the World Health Organization, some 2.1 million women with syphilis give birth every year,” and notes, “Almost 70 percent of their babies are stillborn, and many of the rest suffer from low birth weight (putting them at great risk for a host of illnesses), hearing loss, vision loss and facial deformities.”

BMJ Examines Mother-To-Mother Peer Educational Initiative

“As Southern African policymakers gather in London this month to discuss strategies for reducing new HIV infections in children, [freelance writer] Karen McColl reports on an initiative that uses affected mothers to provide support” in this BMJ feature article. BMJ provides a brief history of how the mothers2mothers (m2m) initiative — established by obstetrician Mitch Besser and colleagues to develop a model of peer education and psychosocial support — developed, writing, “What started as a few mothers providing education and support to their peers has now evolved, 10 years on, into an international program operating on 589 sites in seven countries” and “now employs 1,457 mentor mothers” (3/12).

USAID Annual Letter Discusses Global Health Initiatives

PSI’s “Healthy Lives” blog presents global health-related excerpts of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah’s annual letter that was published on March 9. Shah touches on programs to improve infant and child health; water, sanitation and hygiene; malaria prevention; HIV/AIDS care; and health care in several countries, including Afghanistan, Ghana and Ethiopia, according to the blog (3/9).

Partner Reduction Strategies Essential To Reversing Spread Of HIV

“The rising enthusiasm for providing more medicines threatens to come at the expense of promising initiatives for preventing HIV infections in the first place — initiatives that could save many lives, with less money,” Craig Timberg, the newspaper’s deputy national security editor, and Daniel Halperin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, write in this Washington Post opinion piece. “Ambitious treatment efforts and smart prevention programs are, of course, not inherently at odds. But especially in an era of fiscal constraint, these two goals could come into conflict,” they write, continuing, “The result, wasteful in dollars spent and lives diminished, would represent only the latest misjudgment by powerful donor nations such as the United States, which still struggle to understand the root causes of an epidemic that has spread most widely in weaker, poorer nations.”

Scientists At Seattle Conference Discuss Progress, Obstacles In Fight Against HIV/AIDS

“Scientists, stymied for decades by the complexity of the human immunodeficiency virus, are making progress on several fronts in the search for a cure for HIV infections,” but “[a] major stumbling block is the fact that HIV lies low in pools or reservoirs of latent infection that even powerful drugs cannot reach, scientists told the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, one of the world’s largest scientific meetings on HIV/AIDS,” in Seattle last week, Reuters reports. “Promising tactics range from flushing hidden HIV from cells to changing out a person’s own immune system cells, making them resistant to HIV and then putting them back into the patient’s body,” the news service writes.

Report Calls For Compensation For People Infected By HIV Through Illegal Blood Sales In China

A new report (.pdf), “jointly published by the Korekata AIDS Law Center in Beijing and the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Asia Catalyst,” calls for the Chinese government to conduct “a full and independent investigation into the number of people affected” by illegal blood selling in central China in the 1990s that helped to spread HIV, “an official apology to the people affected, as well as compensation,” BMJ reports.

Global Burden Of Disease Revision Covers 225 Health Conditions, 50 Risk Factors

At a plenary session Thursday at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) “presented preliminary data from the 2010 revision of the Global Burden of Disease,” which “is aimed at analyzing global health trends to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries and risk factors by age, sex and geography for specific points in time,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study is a collaboration of IMHE, the University of Queensland, the WHO, and the Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health, according to the blog, which notes that the analysis of 225 health conditions and more than 50 risk factors is expected to be published this year and made available to the public online (Lubinski, 3/8).

South Africa’s Evolving HIV/AIDS Policy

In this interview in World Politics Review’s “Trend Lines,” Peter Navario, an adjunct associate professor of public policy at New York University and a former global health fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses the evolution South Africa’s HIV/AIDS policy over the last decade, the country’s current relationship with pharmaceutical companies, and how South African President Jacob Zuma’s HIV/AIDS policy is received in the region and by international donors. “South Africa has gone from global laggard to playing a leading role in the global HIV response,” Navario said, adding that the country’s “policies are in lockstep with World Health Organization guidelines, and an aggressive new strategic plan aims to tackle HIV-related stigma, meet 80 percent of treatment need and cut new infections in half by 2016” (3/7).

Challenges To Achieving An AIDS-Free Generation

In a plenary presentation at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle on Wednesday, Dorothy Mbori-Ngacha of UNICEF examined the challenges to reaching the goal of an AIDS-free generation, by “eliminat[ing] 90 percent of HIV infections among children by 2015,” and “outlined the four pillars of achieving that goal,” including preventing HIV among women, preventing unintended pregnancies, preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), and supporting HIV-positive women and their families, the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” reports. She called for strengthening family planning programs in the context of PMTCT, prioritizing “pregnant women for access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or microbicides,” implementing strategies to initiate and care for women in treatment programs, and intervening early in pregnancy, according to the blog (Lubinski, 3/7).

Odds Of Adult Mortality Lower In PEPFAR Focus Countries Compared With Non-Focus Countries, Study Shows

“In an attempt to assess the impact of U.S. international assistance for AIDS, researchers from Stanford University carried out a review of the relationship between U.S. support provided through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and adult mortality in PEPFAR focus countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and whether there were differences in outcome between these countries and other African countries which did not receive PEPFAR support,” NAM’s Aidsmap reports (Alcorn, 3/8). Presenting the results at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle on Wednesday, Eran Bendavid said “[s]tatistical analysis found that adults living in focus countries between 2004 and 2008 had about a 20 percent lower odds of mortality compared to adults in non-focus countries,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” writes, adding, “Evidence for unintended health effects with respect to adult mortality is inconclusive, Bendavid said, but the likelihood of PEPFAR interventions eliciting unintended harms is low” (Mazzotta, 3/7).

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