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Opinions: Climate Change And Health; HIV/AIDS

In light of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, which starts today in Copenhagen, Denmark, news outlets published several opinion items related to climate change and health. Summaries appear below:

To Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Focus On Health-Related Benefits Of Clean Air

Jean-Paul Chretien, a Truman National Security Project fellow, writes in a Baltimore Sun opinion piece, “we almost never hear about the lives and health-related costs that cleaner air would save.” According to Chretien, “Besides emitting gases that drive climate change, coal-fired electricity plants and petroleum-burning vehicles release air pollutants that cause illness and death from respiratory and cardiovascular disease, among other conditions. … Worldwide, the countries responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions are the ones with the most deaths from outdoor air pollution.”

Since world leaders have not yet come to an agreement on climate change, Chretien writes that “broadening the discussion to include benefits from cleaner air could help drive the reluctant toward agreement” (12/7).

Developing Countries Want Adaptation Deal To Help Mitigate Potential Health Effects Of Climate Change

“Without a deal on how to cope with the possible effects of climate change, there will be no agreement in Copenhagen – or at any future conference, for that matter. That’s because developing countries, which likely will suffer some of the worst impact of any significant warming, have made it clear that they will not agree to an emissions-reduction package without substantial help in coping with the increased flooding, drought and disease that many scientists say will result from a warming planet,” Samuel Fankhauser, a principal fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

“[I]f temperatures were to rise by two degrees or more, farmers might have to change crops, planting dates, fertilizer and pesticide regimes. Water companies might have to invest in new reservoirs, and maybe build desalination plants to deal with droughts. Hydroelectric-power stations might have to be adapted to accommodate different rainfall patterns. … Settlements in areas prone to storms, floods or forest fires might have to be fortified or moved. Health services might have to prepare for heat waves and (in developing countries) for additional cases of malaria and other vector-borne diseases,” according to Fankhauser. He outlines four issues that developed and developing countries need to address to find agreement. He concludes, “A deal on adaptation would go a long way toward securing a successful Copenhagen outcome” (12/6).

Focus On Global Warming Can Distract From Global Health

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, looks at climate groups’ claim that melting ice on Mount Kilimanjaro is an urgent problem. “Climate activists claim the receding ice is evidence of the need for developed countries to reduce carbon output. Actually, the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro have been receding since 1890,” according to research published in the International Journal of Climatology, Lomborg writes. “Even if some of their claims are questionable, climate activists have managed to promote local tourism and have done a great job at bringing the world’s attention to the mountain’s glaciers. But they are doing a poor job at bringing attention to the actual people of Tanzania,” according to Lomborg.

He writes about local resident Mary Thomas, an HIV-positive widow whose husband died of AIDS. “For Mrs. Thomas, arguments over the state of the ice are irrelevant. When she was asked by a Copenhagen Consensus Center researcher what donors and the Tanzanian government should do, she doesn’t think for long. ‘Education is the first priority,’ she says, ‘and it should provide proper understanding of HIV and reduce the stigma. The next priority is micro-finance so people can have the chance to become self-reliant.’ As she puts it, ‘There is no need for ice on the mountain if there is no people around because of HIV/AIDS'” (12/6).

The following opinions focused on HIV/AIDS:

Media Must Continue To Play Vital Role In Global AIDS Fight

“Today, almost 6,000 people die of AIDS every day, with another 6,800 people infected daily with HIV. In the face of staggering numbers like these, for two decades the fight against AIDS seemed unwinnable,” Tom Freston, chair of the ONE Campaign and a board member of Project (RED), writes in a MEDIAWEEK opinion piece. Now there is “real hope, due to innovative global efforts that are gaining real traction,” like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and PEPFAR, which have “put more than 3.7 million people on AIDS medicine over the past seven years,” according to Freston. “For the first time, global HIV infection rates are slowing down. What’s more, at the current rate, by 2015, it’s a real possibility that no mother will have to fear passing on the disease to her child because treatment will be available to her,” he writes. 

“My colleagues in the media have played a key role in waging this fight over the past 30 years … Given the real progress and signs of hope we are seeing, this is no time for media to look away,” he writes. “It is time for the media in the Western world to redouble its efforts and move forward with a new message of optimism and hope, while also informing and encouraging both the public and decision makers to remain committed to the cause. If we are ever to reach our goal of living in a world free from HIV/AIDS, it is essential that the media, with all of its influence and powers of persuasion, continues to play its part to lead the effort in the fight against AIDS,” Freston concludes (12/6).

PEPFAR Should Integrate ‘More Closely’ With Country Health Systems

“As the global AIDS epidemic evolves, so should the tools used to fight it,” according to a Boston Globe editorial. “For both financial and health reasons, the Obama team should integrate [PEPFAR] more closely with the overall health systems of the countries receiving aid. If, as seems likely, budget pressures in the United States prevent a major hike in PEPFAR funding, American health officials must help recipient nations pick up the slack,” the Boston Globe writes.

“Congress called for increased global HIV/AIDS funding in 2008, before the full dimensions of the recession were evident. Now the Obama administration must move toward sustainable HIV/AIDS programs in developing countries, with an eye toward achieving economies as well as better coordination with other public health campaigns,” the editorial concludes (12/5).

Need ‘Bold’ U.S. Leadership To Move Global AIDS Fight Forward

“Progress on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care is plateauing as the newly reauthorized President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is flat-funded and as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria begins to ration resources, with its coffers running low,” according to a Boston Globe opinion piece by Brook Baker, co-chairman of the Health GAP board and Donna Barry, Partners In Health’s advocacy and policy director.

“Africans are learning about their HIV status at an unprecedented rate. … Just when testing trends are so positive, when the costs of medicines have plummeted to historic lows, and when science shows that treatment reduces the risk of HIV transmission, funding is being capped both by donor countries and their developing country partners,” they write before describing the difficult choices people face because of limited funding for antiretrovirals. They highlight world leaders’ commitments from the last 10 years at the U.N. and G8 meetings, noting that the “promises have not been met.” According to Baker and Barry, “What we need now is bold leadership and fulfilled promises from Washington to increase AIDS funding and continue saving lives, not longer lines filled with despair” (12/7).

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