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Opinions: AIDS 2010; Clean Water, Sanitation; Russia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic; Financial Tax; Medical Abortion In Developing Countries

GHI Builds On PEPFAR HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment Programs

A VOA News editorial by the U.S. government reflects on last month’s International AIDS Conference-AIDS 2010, including key advancements such as the vaginal microbicide gel found to offer women some protection against HIV infection as well discussions about funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS and how the “criminalization of drug abuse and persecution of homosexuals” in the world is compromising efforts to prevent the spread of the disease. According to the editorial, the U.S. “is the largest contributor to global AIDS programs through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. And through the Global Health Initiative, which builds on PEPFAR, the United States is investing $63 billion over 6 years to help partner countries improve the health of their people through strengthened health systems.”

“The Global Health Initiative has set clear goals” on HIV prevention and treatment, President Barack Obama said during a video message at AIDS 2010. “We’re going to double the number of babies born HIV-free, and work to prevent more than 12 million new infections. We’ll provide direct support to more than 4 million people on treatment. And we’ll help more than 12 million people – including 5 million children and orphans – get the care they need,” Obama said (8/2).

Obama’s videotaped message is available here as part of Kaiser’s online coverage of AIDS 2010.

U.N. Clean Water, Sanitation Resolution Is Important Step, But More Will Be Needed To Fulfill MDG

In an Arab News column, writer Iman Kurdi reflects on the recent passage of a U.N. resolution that declared access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation a human right. “Notwithstanding [several] notable abstentions [including the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Israel and Turkey], the resolution was passed and that’s good news. After all, the global statistics are shocking: 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water; 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation; 1.5 million children under five die each year from water and sanitation-related disease,” Kurdi writes. “But will this resolution make a real difference or is it yet another declaration to make those of us living in homes blessed with running water and modern toilets feel good?”

After noting some of the associated challenges and speculating why some countries abstained from voting on the U.N. resolution, Kurdi concludes, “At the end of the day, thinking of access to clean water and sanitation in terms of a fundamental human right is an important step in changing mindsets. It moves the issue from being an aid issue to being a right. But ultimately it is putting in the resources and the programs necessary to make that right a reality that matters. Halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 2015 was one of the Millennium Development Goals. It is a goal that is a long way off from being met” (8/2).

To Reverse HIV/AIDS Epidemic In Russia, Country Must Move From Stigma, Discrimination To Protect The Most Vulnerable

Russia “cannot ignore [the] ticking time bomb” that is the country’s increasing HIV rate – a “number [that] is growing at an 8 percent rate annually,” Bertrand Bainvel, a UNICEF representative to Russia, writes in a Moscow Times opinion piece that reflects on the economic hardship since the fall of the Soviet Union. Though Bainvel commends the country’s efforts to prevent mother-to-child-transmission of HIV, which have helped slash the numbers of children born with the disease, he notes “as the epidemic continues to grow, maintaining such coverage means supporting more women and children exposed to the virus. … In Russia, there are an estimated 1.8 million people who take drugs intravenously, and a large proportion of these drug users started this habit in their teenage years.”

After noting the stigma and discrimination children living or associated with parents who are HIV-positive face, Bainvel writes, “We do not need policies, services and a society discriminating against vulnerable families, their children and people living with HIV. Those would further drive the epidemic underground and make it increasingly more difficult to control. To reverse the HIV epidemic, we must have the courage to face realities and to care, respect and protect the most vulnerable people in the country” (8/2).

Financial Tax To Fund HIV/AIDS Relief A ‘Bad Idea’

“HIV/AIDS is terrible, and so is poverty,” but demanding “a tax on financial transactions to fund HIV/AIDS relief in poor countries” is “a bad idea,” writes Eamonn Butler, director of economic-think tank the Adam Smith Institute, in an Addis Fortune opinion piece. Butler continues, “the proposed tax will directly harm trade” by making transactions more expensive. He also argues that “taxes do not go to the poor, they go to the government, bureaucracy and projects that politicians want, not what is needed.”

The author also argues that HIV/AIDS is the “wrong thing” to spend a financial tax on because “far more people in poor countries die from other, preventable, diseases.” He writes the poor are hampered not by a lack of Western aid, but by a lack of “property rights and the rule of law” as well as “corruption” and local and Western trade barriers. “Instead of more taxes amid austerity, the campaigners should be demanding that the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) set an example by freeing trade completely. That is the way to end world poverty and the diseases that go with it” (8/1).

Medical Abortion Could Gain Traction In The Developing World

“Could the decades-long global impasse over abortion worldwide be overcome – by little white pills costing less than $1 each?” op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof asks in a New York Times opinion piece. “Five-sixths of abortions take place in developing countries, where poor sterilization and training often make the procedure dangerous. Up to 70,000 women die a year from complications of abortion, according to the World Health Organization,” he writes.

Researchers are finding that misoprostol, a stomach ulcer drug that also treats postpartum hemorrhaging and is currently the second of two pills given to perform a medical abortion in the U.S. and Europe, is “80 to 85 percent” effective in terminating a pregnancy on its own. “What do these pills mean for the political battles over abortion? To firm opponents of abortion, the means of ending a pregnancy doesn’t matter. … In any case, it would be tough to carry out a ban on medical abortion” because misoprostol is already widely available and can be found on the internet for “just pennies per pill.” Kristof concludes, “As word spreads among women worldwide about what a few pills can do, it’s hard to see how politicians can stop this gynecological revolution” (7/31).