A UNAIDS press release describes a Congressional bipartisan briefing that took place on Tuesday with the theme, “Together we will end AIDS.” Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) hosted the briefing, which aimed to “find ways of maximizing new opportunities to respond to HIV,” according to the press release. Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, and Sir Elton John also attended the meeting, according to UNAIDS (7/24).
US Global Health Policy
Assistant Sec. Of Health Koh Addresses AIDS 2012 Plenary; HHS Sec. Sebelius Speaks At Washington Post Event
Speaking at the plenary session of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, D.C., on Monday, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh discussed the development and implementation of the United States’ first-ever comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, ABC News reports. “In the U.S., the burden of HIV is not shared equally, by population or region,” Koh said, according to the news service, which adds, “Addressing HIV-related health disparities is one of three overarching goals of the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy, along with reducing new infections and increasing access to HIV care.” About 50,000 new HIV infections occur in the U.S. annually, ABC notes (Duwell, 7/25). According to his speech transcript (.pdf), Koh said, “National strategies are critical to effective country leadership on HIV. National strategies outline a framework for responding to HIV/AIDS in ways that reflect each country’s unique epidemiology, disease burden, and trends. And they demonstrate the importance of country ownership and the need to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programs” (7/24).
Vienna Declaration Launches Ad Campaign Calling On U.S. Presidential Candidates To End 'War On Drugs'
As delegates gathered for the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) this week in Washington, D.C., “supporters of the 2010 Vienna Declaration, which urges governments to write evidence-based drug policies,” launched an ad campaign (.pdf) calling on U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “to stop the spread of AIDS by ending the so-called ‘war on drugs,'” the Globe and Mail reports. British businessman Richard Branson; former president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso; former president of Colombia Cesar Gaviria; Michel Kazatchkine, former executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Evan Wood, chair of the Vienna Declaration Writing Committee; and Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, among others, have endorsed the declaration and the ad, which states, “You can’t end AIDS unless you end the war on drugs. It’s dead simple,” according to the newspaper (Drews, 7/23).
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).
As participants convene this week in Washington, D.C., for the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), “it is impossible to ignore an inconvenient truth: that drug war politics and policies in the United States and many other countries are severely jeopardizing the overall ‘fight against AIDS,'” Mathilde Krim, founding chair of amfAR and a member of the board of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, write in the Huffington Post’s “Politics Blog.” They continue, “Too many countries in the world have let their repressive and punitive drug policies get in the way of the public’s health. … The spread of HIV will not be stopped as long as drug use remains criminalized and as long as people who inject drugs are given up for lost” (7/24).
Noting successes with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and PEPFAR, as well as other domestic and international programs, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) writes in a Politico opinion piece, “But this is not enough.” He continues, “The Obama administration has the opportunity to push for policies that can offer developing nations more access to generic ARV therapies,” including supporting intellectual property rules under the Trans-Pacific Partnership “that would help speed up — not impede — generic drug competition in countries like Vietnam.” Waxman adds, “We should also back efforts to give developing countries more flexibility in interpreting the World Trade Organization’s patent rules for medicines,” and the administration “should … promote the Medicines Patent Pool, a bold initiative to bring down prices of HIV medicines by encouraging pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily license their patents and allow generic manufacturers to sell in developing countries.” Waxman concludes that the U.S. should be proud of its leadership on HIV/AIDS, “[b]ut our work is far from done. Supporting reliable access to generic medicines in the developing world is a much-needed step in getting us there” (7/24).
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).
“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).
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).
In a feature analysis, Devex examines the history of PEPFAR, the program’s sustainability, its use of public-private partnerships, and the potential impact of the closure earlier this month of the Global Health Initiative (GHI) office. Noting that next year marks the 10-year anniversary of PEPFAR, Devex concludes, “The Obama administration’s apparent about-face on components of GHI is but one reminder that in Washington — especially as administrations come and go — ideas, initiatives, and funding often fade away all too quickly. The U.S. foreign aid industry is no exception. If PEPFAR can continue its commitment to innovation and partnership, however, visitors to the U.S. capital this week [for the International AIDS Conference] can still be hopeful over America’s leadership role in the fight against HIV/AIDS” (Troilo/Piccio, 7/23).