VOA News examines AIDS among high-risk groups in Burma, also known as Myanmar. “Burma’s AIDS epidemic mostly affects marginalized groups, such as the gay community,” the news service writes, adding, “About one percent of Burma’s population is HIV-positive,” but “[a]mong high-risk groups, such as men who have sex with men, health workers estimate as many as 11 percent have HIV.” The news service notes, “While Burma’s National AIDS Plan has helped stem new infections, it offers almost no help for marginalized groups already living with HIV.”
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Thursday hosted a panel discussion focusing on the policy implications of findings published by the Lancet in a special series on HIV/AIDS and men who have sex with men (MSM), the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports (Barton, 9/7). Chris Beyrer, a professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a contributor to the Lancet series, explained two factors are affecting the expansion of the HIV epidemic among MSM worldwide, according to Inter Press Service. First, HIV “is far more efficiently transmitted through the gut, hence leading to a far higher transmission probability in anal sex, for either a man or a woman — around 18 times more likely than through vaginal transmission,” the news service writes. Second, “because gay men can switch sexual roles in a way that is impossible among heterosexual couples — acting as both the acquisition and transmission partner — the efficiency of transmission among MSM networks appears to be far higher than previously understood,” IPS adds, noting, “These two factors, the new research suggests, account for a full 98 percent of the difference between HIV epidemics among MSM and heterosexual populations.”
PSI’s “Global Health Impact” blog features a video interview by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in which “[f]ormer UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot discusses with CSIS Senior Vice President and Director of the Global Health Policy Center J. Stephen Morrison the lessons he has learned in his years fighting AIDS.” In the video interview, Piot “explain[s] the reason for making AIDS a political issue and how it was enacted,” the blog states, adding he “tells how he stressed an evidence-based approach to finding AIDS solutions from the start, but it became apparent that it was not the only answer” (9/7).
Reuters Examines Challenges To Implementing 'Treatment As Prevention,' Other HIV Prevention Strategies In Current Economic Climate
In an “Insight” feature article, Reuters examines how new information on the prevention benefits of HIV treatment and other strategies, such as male circumcision, “could finally break the back of the AIDS epidemic.” But, “[w]ith some recession-strapped donor countries already struggling to meet their current commitments for treatment and prevention programs, AIDS activists worry that money, and not science, could hold up progress,” the news agency states. “‘The benefits of early detection and treatment have never been more clear, but countries have never been more challenged to provide needed resources,’ Kaiser Family Foundation [President and CEO] Drew Altman said in a statement,” the news service writes. Reuters highlights the results of several studies, discusses the challenges of “treatment as prevention,” and looks at the costs associated with implementing that and other strategies. “One hesitation is that the drugs work so well that people who take them can live basically a normal life, which means countries are on the hook for a lifetime of treatment,” the news service writes, adding, “The challenge is trying to sell the prevention aspect of treatment as cost-effective.” Reuters notes, “HIV/AIDS experts will test these efforts — along with less costly approaches, such as counseling, condom use and circumcision — in as many as 50 studies globally to see how well they work in real-world settings” (Steenhuysen, 9/6).
“With a completed trial in Thailand that offered evidence a vaccine could be developed to protect people from HIV, emerging science identifying antibodies against HIV, and a current trial testing a novel vaccine combination against the virus potentially producing more information in the next year, this is an exciting time to hold a conference, organizers of AIDS Vaccine 2012 say,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog reports. “AIDS Vaccine 2012, which begins this Sunday and runs through Wednesday in Boston, will bring together about 1,000 participants, 120 scientists and scholars, discussion of 440 research studies, and speakers that, along with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, will include researchers known for work in HIV treatment as prevention of transmission, pre-exposure antiretroviral treatment as prevention (PrEP — or pre-exposure prophylaxis), and topical microbicides,” the blog notes (Barton, 9/6).
NPR’s “Shots” blog examines the “test and treat” approach to HIV care and prevention, which “relies on the fact that taking HIV drugs dramatically reduces a person’s risk of transmitting the virus to others,” and, “[a]s more and more people are put on medication, the epidemic theoretically should fizzle out.” The blog continues, “Test and treat sounds good on paper, but some doctors and policymakers have doubts about its feasibility on a large scale.”
In Foreign Policy’s “Passport” blog, Associate Editor Uri Friedman reflects on former President George W. Bush’s efforts against AIDS, highlighting PEPFAR, which he “established in 2003 and which now supports antiretroviral treatment for 4.5 million people around the world.” Friedman quotes former President Bill Clinton, who, speaking at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, said, “I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries.” Friedman continues, “[W]hat’s particularly notable about the reference is that, during a convention season designed to draw sharp distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, the two parties have found common ground on at least one point: the success of Bush’s efforts to fight AIDS.”
PlusNews examines the recently approved grants under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s Transitional Funding Mechanism (TFM), stating, “Last week, the Fund announced that 45 new grant applications, from countries such as Burundi, Malawi and Swaziland, have been approved under the TFM.” The news service notes, “Almost 25 percent of this combined total will go towards [tuberculosis (TB)], which represents a significant increase from the average 16 percent of funds allocated for TB since the Global Fund was created in 2002, according to a StopTB Partnership statement released in response” to the fund’s announcement. PlusNews notes, “Unlike regular grants, which can run for up to five years, those awarded under the TFM will be limited to two years, by which time the fund is expected to have launched its new funding model” (9/4).
“Kenya has launched an investigation after researchers claimed HIV-positive women were being routinely sterilized without their consent in government hospitals,” the Guardian reports. The African Gender and Media Initiative issued a report “based on interviews with 40 women, suggest[ing] the practice was widespread and ongoing,” according to the newspaper. “The report also includes examples of coercive tactics used by medical staff to obtain consent — for instance, threatening to withhold antiretroviral medication or baby milk if the woman did not agree to the procedure,” the newspaper writes. “‘These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,’ Shariff Shahnaz, the director of public health, told the Daily Nation newspaper,” the Guardian reports (Mojtehedzadeh, 9/4).
“Despite pledges from governments across Eastern Europe and Central Asia to fight HIV/AIDS — one of the eight Millennium Development Goals — the region has the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic,” Inter Press Service reports in an article examining challenges to stemming the spread of the disease, particularly among injection drug users. “Punitive drug policies, discrimination and problems with access to medicines and important therapy are all driving an epidemic which is unlikely to be contained, world experts say, until governments in countries with the worst problems change key policies and approaches to the disease,” the news service writes. According to experts and activists, a lack of opiate-substitution therapy (OST) and needle-exchange programs, as well as discrimination against and “active persecution” of drug users who try to access therapy programs, contributes to the spread of HIV, IPS notes (Stracansky, 9/3).