Highlighting the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), which concluded in Washington, D.C., on Friday, this New York Times editorial examines the future of the global AIDS response. “There is no prospect that scientists will any time soon find the ultimate solutions to the AIDS epidemic, namely a vaccine that would prevent infection with the AIDS virus or a ‘cure’ for people already infected with the virus,” the editorial states, adding, “Even so, health care leaders already have many tools that have been shown in rigorous trials to prevent transmission of the virus, making it feasible to talk of controlling the epidemic within the foreseeable future.” The editorial continues, “Instead of waiting for these future possibilities, [NIAID Director Anthony Fauci] and other health leaders are proposing the broad adoption of other available tools to reduce the spread of the virus so as to produce an ‘AIDS-free generation,’ a goal enunciated last year by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.” The editorial adds, “The only question is whether the nations of the world are willing to put up enough money and make the effort to do it” (7/27).
“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).
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).
“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).
Simon Reid-Henry, a lecturer in the School of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London and a senior fellow at the Peace Research Institute, and Hans Lofgren, an associate professor in politics at Deakin University in Melbourne, write in the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog” about “a triple-pronged attack on [India's] generic drug manufacturers by the west.” They discuss the European Union-India free trade agreement, currently being negotiated; an Indian supreme court case between Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis and the Indian government; and an “attempt by German pharmaceutical company Bayer to revoke the recent granting of a compulsory license for an Indian firm, Natco Pharma.” If the west is successful in any of these attempts, it “could delay the introduction of cheaper medicines in India and elsewhere at a time when the global financial crisis has already put the squeeze on life-saving medicines across the world,” they write (7/26).
“For the first time in many years, a new message is on the lips of the people on the frontlines [of the AIDS response] — together, we will end AIDS,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Living” blog. He notes, “Just a decade ago, this very thought would have been dismissed,” and asks, “What has changed? Where has this hope come from?” He writes, “It comes from the resilience and steadfastness of the global community, led by people living with HIV, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, mothers, doctors, nurses, scientists, activists to halt the AIDS epidemic from defining our lives.” He provides a recap of the global response, highlighting results, investments, scientific progress, and the protection of human rights, and continues, “Above all, it is people who have changed the face of the AIDS epidemic.” He concludes, “We can end AIDS. We will end AIDS” (7/25).
In this Politico opinion piece, Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and Gerry Elsdon, a South African businesswoman and television host — both tuberculosis (TB) survivors — write that one priority at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., this week “should be spearheading a joint global effort against HIV and tuberculosis.” They write, “The rationale for a joint effort is clear,” adding, “Where HIV and TB are most common, the epidemics have merged, or are in the process of merging, into a single co-epidemic,” and “[t]hose whose immune systems are weakened by HIV are at extreme risk of dying from TB.” They conclude, “Thanks to a series of recent scientific breakthroughs, this week’s conference is the first in 30 years that has activists seriously contemplating the end of AIDS. Yet to see a real end to AIDS, we must put an end to TB. So let’s combine our efforts to reach these two goals” (7/24).
“At the XIX International AIDS Conference this week in Washington, D.C., Americans should be proud of what we have done to fight HIV/AIDS around the world, and how, together, we are turning the tide against an epidemic once thought to be invincible,” CARE USA President and CEO Helene Gayle writes in this post in Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “At CARE, which fights global poverty by empowering women and girls, we have seen women — particularly young women — remain disproportionately at risk of contracting the disease,” she writes, noting, “The World Health Organization reports that women constitute 60 percent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.” She concludes, “Continuing the momentum means staying ahead of the disease and reaching the most vulnerable populations such as the ultra-poor and, in too many places, women and girls” (7/24).
Noting “[a]pproximately 17 million women worldwide are currently living with HIV, with more than a million new infections in women of reproductive age each year,” Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of Population Action International (PAI), and Charles Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), write in this guest post in the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog that “family planning and HIV are inextricably linked, especially for HIV-positive women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.” They continue, “And while addressing unmet family planning needs is essential for all women, family planning services are particularly critical for HIV-positive women who want to postpone pregnancy due to HIV-related illness, or want to access medicines and services that will allow them to give birth to an HIV-negative child” (Barton, 7/24).