In the New York Times’ “Scientist At Work” blog, Alexander Kumar, a physician and researcher at Concordia Station in Antarctica, examines the question of “why humans should venture out to other planets, and perhaps in the process create new problems, when we have so many problems on our own planet,” including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other “largely preventable and treatable” conditions. Kumar, who is “investigat[ing] the possibility of one day sending humans to Mars” for the European Space Agency, says he is “repeatedly asked … why the human race would invest its precious and finite resources (money) into space exploration?” He continues, “People have presented valid arguments both ways: those against, about depriving the bottom billion of our planet by diverting much-needed funding; and those in favor, for furthering mankind’s now-desperate need for discoveries and new life-saving technology through exploration in space.
The Financial Times on Friday published a special report titled, “FT Health: Combating AIDS 2012” (.pdf). The report, released ahead of World AIDS Day, observed annually on December 1, includes several pieces, including an article discussing human behavior as an obstacle to eradicating HIV, an article examining Global Fund reform, and an article examining how the number of AIDS-related deaths could be reduced by more effectively treating tuberculosis patients (11/30).
Writing in the Global Health Technologies Coalition’s “Breakthroughs” blog, Eleonora Jimenez-Levi, a senior researcher at the Treatment Action Group (TAG), examines the 2012 Report on Tuberculosis Research Funding Trends: 2005â€“2011,”the latest report on the state of funding for tuberculosis (TB) research and product development.” Jimenez-Levi recaps the findings and recommendations of the report and concludes, “Promising new tools are on the horizon, but without political will and adequate funding to support the development of new vaccines, diagnostics, and drugs, the world will not be able to contain the growing problem that drug-resistant TB poses, much less eliminate TB as a public health threat by 2050” (11/27).
UNAIDS and the Stop TB Partnership on Tuesday launched an “initiative aimed at reducing HIV deaths caused by tuberculosis (TB) by half” by 2015, the U.N. News Centre reports (11/27). The memorandum of understanding signed by the groups states they will “take action … to strategically address the intolerable burden of TB mortality borne by people living with HIV,” according to a UNAIDS press release. “The two organizations are developing a detailed work plan and have committed to collaboration to achieve three main objectives within the next three years: increase political commitment and resource mobilization for TB/HIV; strengthen knowledge, capacity and engagement of civil society organizations, affected communities and the private sector; and help most-affected countries integrate TB/HIV services,” the press release continues (11/27). “TB/HIV is a deadly combination. We can stop people from dying of HIV/TB co-infection through integration and simplification of HIV and TB services,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said, according to the U.N. News Centre (11/27).
“More than one-quarter of people diagnosed with tuberculosis [TB] at a clinic in India’s largest city of 18 million have a strain that doesn’t respond to the main treatment against the disease, according to preliminary data from a new diagnostic being tested,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper obtained “preliminary and not peer reviewed” data from TB clinics in Mumbai, and Puneet Dewan with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation TB program in India “said the WHO and Indian authorities are taking the data seriously because it appears to confirm other studies in recent years of similarly high rates of multi-drug-resistance, in which patients don’t respond to the two most powerful TB medicines.” According to the newspaper, “The WHO and India currently estimate India has about 100,000 of the 650,000 people in the world with multi-drug-resistance” (Anand/McKay, 11/23).
UNAIDS’ new World AIDS Day report: Results, released on Tuesday, “shows that unprecedented acceleration in the AIDS response is producing results for people,” according to a UNAIDS press release. Between 2001 and 2011, “a more than 50 percent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections has been achieved across 25 low- and middle-income countries — more than half in Africa, the region most affected by HIV,” the press release states, adding, “In addition to welcome results in HIV prevention, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths by one third in the last six years and increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment by 59 percent in the last two years alone.” According to the press release, “The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children,” and the number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped because of increased access to antiretroviral treatment.
According to a new report (.pdf) released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Kuala Lumpur, many tuberculosis (TB) programs “under-diagnose, under-treat or completely leave children with TB out, despite the increase in pediatric TB, and rising numbers of children who are infected with drug-resistant forms of TB strains,” PlusNews reports. The report, based on “data collected over three years from over 2,000 children with TB in 13 MSF projects across six countries,” found that diagnosis of children using the most commonly used TB test is inaccurate and pediatric TB drug formulations and treatment guidelines are inadequate, the news service notes. MSF called for the development of new TB tests that do not require sputum samples or laboratory infrastructure and “urged WHO to provide clear guidance to drug manufacturers on needed fixed-dose combinations of first-line drugs to support implementation of the new WHO-recommended dosages,” PlusNews writes (11/16).
Noting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria met last week to discuss progress in fighting the three diseases, Lucy Chesire, executive director and secretary to the board of the TB ACTION Group, interviews Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, about the global response to tuberculosis (TB) in the Huffington Post’s “The Big Push” blog. In the blog, Ditiu summarizes the state of the global TB response, discusses the emergence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), and addresses the Global Fund’s role in the response to TB and the future of these efforts. “The Global Fund has an ambitious strategy that includes important milestones for anti-TB efforts,” Ditiu said, adding, “The international community must find a way to fund that strategy and to ensure that resources are allocated in a way that achieves the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” according to the blog (11/16).
“In a bid to ensure the global fight against three of the world’s most devastating diseases remains efficient, the Board of the … Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria voted [Thursday] to begin an immediate transition” to a new grant-funding approach, the U.N. News Centre reports (11/15). The new funding model “is designed to be simpler, more flexible, and have greater impact in conquering the diseases,” according to Reuters. “The new system relies upon closer discussions with the recipient countries, along with other donor groups and experts, over the design of their disease-fighting programs”; “will focus on addressing the needs of the poorest countries with the highest number of infections”; and will allow flexible grant cycles “instead of falling in set time periods, so that they can be coordinated better with a country’s budgetary cycle, [the Board] said,” the news agency writes (Dawson, 11/15).
The Wall Street Journal examines how “Greece has seen decades of advances in public health rolled back, as a flood of illegal immigrants, a dysfunctional government and budget cuts ravage a once proud health-care system.” Noting “[o]ver the past two years, more than 50 endemic cases of [malaria] and more than 100 imported cases have been identified in Greece,” the newspaper writes, “The return of malaria, a scourge in developing countries, to Greece is a disturbing indicator of the nation’s decline since it crashed in 2009 under the weight of a debt binge.” The Wall Street Journal examines the history of malaria’s return to the country and how the government is responding. “In addition to malaria, public health officials say they are worried about rises in everything from infectious respiratory-tract diseases and skin conditions to tuberculosis and HIV,” the newspaper notes (Granitsas, 11/14).