Noting that President Barack Obama’s “only presence [at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)] is a 50-second cameo in a three-minute video welcoming delegates,” Bloomberg reports that his “absence … has activists talking.” The news service discusses Obama’s campaign schedule, interviews advocates about his decision, and talks to policy experts regarding U.S. global AIDS funding. “Administration officials defended the president’s priorities and his attention to the issue,” Bloomberg writes, adding, “Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for Obama’s National Security Council, said in an e-mail that ‘the most important metric for PEPFAR is lives saved, not dollars spent, and through smart investments we are delivering results'” (Brower, 7/25).
Programs, Funding & Financing
In this opinion piece in the Atlantic, Mark Harrington, co-founder and executive director of the Treatment Action Group (TAG), says that stronger leadership from the U.S. is needed in order to end the AIDS epidemic. Harrington notes that “earlier this year, [President Obama] proposed a shocking cut of $550 million to [PEPFAR], the most successful U.S.-funded global health program in history,” and highlights his absence from “the first International AIDS Conference to be held on American soil since … 1990.” He provides “a to do list the president should consider if he wants to walk the walk,” which includes “[f]ully fund[ing] PEPFAR and support[ing] its reauthorization in 2013,” “[f]ully support[ing] the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,” “[r]eject[ing] the congressional ban on federal funding for needle exchange,” “[r]evis[ing] and revitaliz[ing] the National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” increasing funding for NIH, and “fully funding the research, prevention, care, and treatment” needed to end the epidemic (7/24).
“The chairman of the House agricultural appropriations panel warned anti-hunger groups on Tuesday that their pleas for more funding will fall on deaf ears unless they’re willing to deal with the politics of foreign aid,” The Hill’s “Global Affairs” blog reports. According to the blog, “[t]hat includes support for genetically modified crops, better accountability from nonprofit groups, outreach to members of Congress and understanding that aid recipients’ votes against the United States at the United Nations matter, said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).”
“AIDS activists gathering in Washington, D.C., and Kolkata, India, this week have denounced conditions attached to U.S. global AIDS funding, which they say have damaged the response to the epidemic by further marginalizing sex workers — among those hardest hit” by the epidemic, the Guardian reports. “International organizations that receive funds through [PEPFAR] must sign an ‘anti-prostitution pledge’ prohibiting them from doing anything that could be perceived as supporting sex work,” the news service notes. According to the Guardian, “U.S. organizations that receive PEPFAR money are no longer bound by the pledge, after successfully taking the government to court on the basis that the conditions attached to funding violate first amendment rights,” but “organizations outside the U.S. are still required to sign it” (Provost, 7/25).
International medicines financing mechanism UNITAID said on Monday it “will invest more than $140 million to evaluate point-of-care [PoC] HIV diagnostic and monitoring technology in seven African countries,” PlusNews reports, adding, “New technology could help put more people living with HIV on treatment faster and improve care, UNITAID partners said at the international AIDS conference in Washington, D.C.” (7/25). “The investment … is being committed to projects implemented by the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), UNICEF and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to increase access to affordable point-of-care HIV diagnostics adapted for use in resource-poor settings,” aidsmap notes in a news story on its webpage (Smart, 7/24).
Speakers at Tuesday’s plenary session at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. highlighted the challenges that lie ahead in the response to HIV/AIDS and discussed potential solutions, ABC News reports (Duwell, 7/25). Bernhard Schwartlander, director for evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS, “highlighted the many new possibilities for collaboration, activism, and financing for the AIDS response as economic growth is rapidly changing the global order,” UNAIDS reports in a feature story (7/24). “A lot of very clever and dedicated people are working very hard in making sure that services are delivered more efficiently, and … more people receive HIV services with the same amount of money,” he said at the session, PlusNews writes (7/25). According to UNAIDS, Schwartlander “outlined a number of innovative financing methods … such as the financial transaction tax; front-loading investments for health through bonds; or utilizing fines paid by pharmaceutical companies for anti-competitive practices for health assistance” (7/24).
In this post on the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Global Health Policy” blog, Mead Over, economist and senior fellow at CGD, previews his participation in a panel that took place Monday evening at the XIX International AIDS Conference. Participants discussed whether AIDS spending is a sound investment in a resource-constrained environment (7/23). Additional information regarding the debate, which was held at World Bank headquarters and included several high-level speakers, is available on the World Bank website (7/23).
In a round-up of events from the XIX International AIDS Conference on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Trevor DeWitt, new media communications officer for the foundation, notes that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Monday released results “showing broad gains in the number of people receiving HIV treatment” (7/23). According to a Global Fund press release, “The results show that 3.6 million people living with HIV are now receiving antiretroviral treatment under programs backed by the Global Fund, an increase of 600,000 since the end of 2010.” In addition, “Overall, 8.7 million lives have been saved by programs supported by the Global Fund since the organization was formed in 2002. The results include data through June 2012,” the press release states (7/23).
In an opinion piece in The Hill’s “Congress Blog,” international health consultant Taufiqur Rahman argues that funding for the HIV/AIDS response is sufficient. He says countries should pay for their own first-line antiretroviral treatment, integrate programs to include HIV prevention activities and apply pressure to bring down the cost of second-line drugs. “We are not using technology and best practices sufficiently to accelerate and sustain our gains to save more lives quickly and build country systems,” Rahman states, adding, “We do not need more funds. We need to be smarter about investing existing resources of $8 billion with careful planning, economic analysis, proper prioritization, and lots of coordinated as well as collaborative efforts.” He continues, “We now need to focus on a ‘Transition Strategy’ with countries and this requires serious rethinking and refocusing. Let us have one global strategy of transition, critical investment, and country capacity building. Focus on collaboration, integration, revised national strategy and national financing to win this battle” (7/23).
Jonathan Klein, board chair of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and co-founder and CEO of Getty Images, writes in a guest post on Forbes, “The U.S. government has long been the world’s most stalwart Global Fund supporter, and U.S. leadership continues to be the most effective tool in leveraging additional resources for the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, particularly at a time when budgets are universally tight.” He notes that “[f]or every $1 invested by U.S. taxpayers, the Global Fund leverages at least $2 more from international donors. And that money translates directly into lifesaving prevention and treatment.” Klein says, “Continued U.S. leadership is essential to maintain these gains and reach our health goals. … With sustained strong support, policymakers in Washington can continue to be responsible … for the uptick in people living healthy, productive lives.” Noting that U.S. foreign aid accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget, he concludes, “But it reaps enormous rewards in generating global good will, boosting national security, saving lives and creating a safer, more stable world for all of us” (7/23).