In a recent edition of VOA News’ “Science In The News,” correspondents Bob Doughty and Shirley Griffith report on “the growing use of generic drugs in fighting HIV” and discuss “the search for an effective vaccine against HIV.” They highlight a study of the effectiveness of PEPFAR conducted by researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island, noting lead researcher Kartik Venkatesh “says the high cost of patented antiretroviral drugs had an immediate influence on the program after it began.” They continue, “American officials considered whether to provide patented drugs to HIV-infected patients, both in the United States and overseas,” adding, “Using generic drugs helped cut the cost of treating a person [in a developing country] from about $1,100 a year to about $300 a year in 2005.”
“This week marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — the world’s most powerful tool for improving health — at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland,” Natasha Bilimoria, president of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, writes in this post in the AlertNet “Insight” blog. During an announcement at the WEF on Wednesday that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate an additional $750 million to the Global Fund, Bill Gates said, “By supporting the Global Fund, we can help to change the fortunes of the poorest countries in the world,” Bilimoria says, writing, “He’s right. … In total, the Global Fund is responsible for saving the lives of roughly 4,400 people every day.”
The XIX International AIDS Conference opened in Washington, D.C., on Sunday and “is expected to draw 25,000 people, including politicians, scientists and activists, as well as some of the estimated 34 million people living with HIV who will tell their stories,” Agence France-Presse reports (Sheridan, 7/22). “Researchers, doctors and patients attending the world’s largest AIDS conference are urging the world’s governments not to cut back on the fight against the epidemic when it is at a turning point,” the Associated Press writes, adding, “There is no cure or vaccine yet, but scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus — largely by using treatment not just to save patients but to make them less infectious, too” (Neergaard, 7/22). “New breakthroughs in research will be announced, as will new efforts by governments and organizations to reduce the spread of HIV, to treat those who have it, and to work, eventually, toward a vaccine and a cure,” the Seattle Times writes (Tate, 7/22). According to the Washington Post’s “Blog Post,” three remaining challenges to be addressed at the conference include: “More research into treatment and prevention, and more ways to deliver treatments”; reaching marginalized populations, such as men who have sex with men and sex workers; and “[i]ncreasing funding for PEPFAR and other anti-AIDS programs” (Khazan, 7/20).
PEPFAR’s gender-based violence (GBV) initiative is bringing “new momentum” and attention to the intersection of HIV and GBV, Janet Fleischman, senior associate at the Global Health Policy Center of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), writes in a post on the center’s “Smart Global Health” blog. She describes the findings of a report (.pdf) for which she traveled to “Tanzania to examine how the GBV initiative is being implemented,” writing, “I found that, although still early in implementation and facing many challenges, the GBV initiative has the potential to yield important lessons about synergies in reducing GBV and HIV, with clear implications for U.S. global health investments” (7/11).
ABC News’ “OTUS” blog features an interview with former first lady Laura Bush, who discusses the importance of foreign aid and how she and her husband, former President George W. Bush, “will be building off the success of [PEPFAR] and continuing to work to fight AIDS in Africa and worldwide,” including “help[ing] women in developing countries screen for cervical cancer” (Karl/Wolf, 7/25). Laura Bush is scheduled to speak at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) on Thursday, and a webcast of the session, “Leadership in the AIDS Response for Women,” will be available online from the Kaiser Family Foundation (7/26).
“More than 400 Kenyan AIDS activists have demonstrated in the capital, Nairobi, demanding that the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief release some $500 million for HIV programs in Kenya that is stuck in the pipeline,” PlusNews reports. “The U.S. government recently revealed that close to $1.5 billion has been in the global PEPFAR pipeline for more than 18 months,” the news service notes, adding that the allocation to Kenya is the largest. According to the news service, “The protestors presented a memorandum listing their demands to U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration, head of PEPFAR-Kenya Katherine Perry, Kenya’s Director of Public Health Shahnaz Sharif, and other senior Ministry of Health officials.”
Inexpensive Female Genital Schistosomiasis Prevention Could Help Reduce Women’s Risk Of HIV Infection
In this Huffington Post “Global Motherhood” blog post, Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, describes female genital schistosomiasis (FGS), which affects more than 100 million women and girls in Africa and “causes horrific pain and bleeding in the uterus, cervix and lower genital tract, not to mention social stigma and depression.” According to studies, women affected by FGS “have a three- to four-fold increase in the risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS,” but a low-cost drug called praziquantel may prevent FGS “and therefore also serve as a low-cost AIDS prevention strategy if it is administered annually to African girls and women beginning in their school-aged years,” he notes.
Noting “PEPFAR has been criticized for its vertical or ‘stove-piping’ structure, with resources targeting a specific disease rather than working to strengthen the underlying health system,” a study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes “aimed to evaluate whether PEPFAR activities were associated with system-wide improvements in both proximal and distal indicators of health systems strengthening.” According to the abstract, “[t]he progressive scale-up of PEPFAR-supported activities was associated with consistent improvements in proximal indicators of health systems strengthening” and “was also associated with improvements in broader measures of health system strength, most clearly life expectancy” (Cohen et al., 12/18).
The Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) — consisting of 40 global health research and advocacy organizations — on Tuesday held a congressional briefing to launch its third annual policy report, titled “Sustaining Progress: Creating U.S. policies to spur global health innovation,” GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog reports (Donnelly, 2/28). The group is “warning deep cuts in the U.S. federal budget could reverse progress made on many diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,” VOA News writes (DeCapua, 2/28).
“The world has lost momentum in the fight against the AIDS epidemic, with millions of new people infected last year, the ONE foundation said in a report,” titled “The Beginning of the End? Tracking Global Commitments on AIDS” and released on Tuesday, Reuters reports. In its annual report last week, UNAIDS said despite advances in access to medicines that both treat and prevent HIV infection, 2.5 million new cases of HIV occurred in 2011, according to the news service. “That is more than double the target of having only 1.1 million people newly infected each year, said ONE,” according to Reuters.