GlobalPost correspondents John Donnelly and Charles Sennott interview USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah “about his perspectives on the AIDS fight,” in this entry in GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog. They discuss U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement last week that the administration would put together a “blueprint” for achieving an “AIDS-free generation,” approaches to increasing demand for voluntary medical male circumcision in the developing world, and the closure of the Global Health Initiative office, among other topics, according to the interview transcript (7/27).
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“The XIX International AIDS Conference [AIDS 2012] drew to a close Friday without the physical presence of President Obama but with a full cast of other high-profile U.S. politicians who expressed their commitment to ending the disease,” CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, 7/27). The conference closed “with the message that getting treatment to more of the world’s 34 million people with HIV is key to curbing the epidemic, short of a vaccine and cure that still are years away,” the Associated Press adds (Neergaard, 7/27). “Presenters at AIDS 2012, from senior government officials and heads of international organizations to civil society leaders and scientists, all echoed that for the first time in the history of AIDS, an end to the epidemic is on the horizon,” an UNAIDS feature article writes, adding, “However, speakers cautioned that there are still numerous challenges that must be addressed before the international community reaches zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS-related deaths” (7/27).
“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.
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).
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).
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., joined former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) for a panel discussion on bipartisanship “focusing on sustaining the engagement of the U.S. Congress in order to demonstrate and encourage continued U.S. leadership in the fight against global AIDS,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports (Mazzotta, 7/25). During the session, Rubio “expressed strong support for foreign aid, especially funding to combat HIV/AIDS,” and Lee “recounted with Frist the history of U.S. efforts to provide global funding,” CQ HealthBeat reports (Adams, 7/25). “‘We have to keep our eyes on the prize,’ and focus on moving forward and figuring out how to work together in a bipartisan way. It happened in the past, [Lee] said, and we can do it again,” “Science Speaks” writes (7/25). Coons “recommended the United States ‘double down’ on investments for AIDS,” in order to “‘innovate and cure our way out of this. That, I think, is in keeping with the optimism and the entrepreneurship of the American character,’ added Mr. Coons,” the Washington Times notes. The discussion was “punctuated by protesters with red umbrellas and signs calling for an end to the ‘criminalization’ of sex workers, drug addicts and other marginalized groups with AIDS,” the Washington Times writes (Wetzstein, 7/25).
On the sidelines of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), Georgetown University hosted a conference for faith-based organizations and leaders to come together to discuss their efforts to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Washington Post reports. Speaking at the conference, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, “considered one of the country’s leading evangelicals on fighting AIDS, said he was willing to work with anyone ‘who wants to end AIDS,’ but blamed the government for trying to get traditional faith workers to what he called ‘change’ their anti-abortion views in order to partner,” according to the newspaper. “Multiple speakers agreed that Christian churches are indispensable in the AIDS fight,” the newspaper notes (Boorstein, 7/25). In a separate article, the Washington Post notes that Warren’s wife, Kay Warren, spoke at the conference on a panel of religious leaders from all over the globe who “discussed the evolution of faith-based organizations’ thinking on AIDS and HIV since the epidemic began” (Bahrampour, 7/24).
The Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports on a session held on Tuesday at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., titled “Strategic Use of Resources: Doing the Right Things with the Right Money.” According to the blog, “Representatives of three countries and two donors described opportunities and challenges to making the most of scientific advances — and limited funds” in their responses to HIV/AIDS (Barton, 7/25).