CIDRAP News reports on a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health during which “researchers, biosecurity experts, and others” discussed the “crafting [of] a framework for funding H5N1 avian influenza gain-of-function studies.” The meeting “is the latest chapter in an intense scientific controversy that was triggered by the publication of two recent studies involving lab-engineered H5N1 strains that showed signs of being transmissible in mammals,” according to the news service. “The global scientific community is closely watching the framework discussions, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the world’s biggest funders of H5N1 research, including the two studies that sparked the controversy,” CIDRAP writes, adding, “Studies on H5N1 are considered a key pandemic preparedness step, and research findings have been used to help governments guide the development of vaccine and antiviral countermeasures.” According to the news service, “The HHS will post a summary and video of the meeting at a later date for those who weren’t able to attend, and it is encouraging people to submit written comments by Jan 10, 2013” (Schnirring, 12/17).
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“Gunmen killed five Pakistani women working on a [three-day] U.N.-backed polio vaccination campaign in two different cities on Tuesday, officials said,” the Associated Press reports, adding, “The attacks were likely an attempt by the Taliban to counter an initiative the militant group has opposed.” According to the news agency, “The attacks came a day after an unknown gunman killed a male volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi” (Jawad, 12/18). “In Karachi, provincial Health Minister Saghir Ahmed said the government had told 24,000 polio workers it was suspending the anti-polio drive in the province,” Reuters reports. “Some Islamists and Muslim preachers say the polio vaccine is a Western plot to sterilize Muslims,” while “[o]ther religious leaders have taken part in campaigns aimed at debunking that myth,” the news agency notes, adding, “There have been at least three other shootings involving polio eradication workers this year” (Shah et al., 12/18).
UNFPA and mobile phone company Nokia announced this week that the “company will donate the equivalent of 3,000 clean delivery kits to the fund,” according to an UNFPA press release. “The kits, designed and distributed by UNFPA, help ensure safe delivery of babies in humanitarian settings,” and are being provided as a result of the fund’s social media campaign “Safe Birth. Even Here.,” the press release states, adding, “The campaign, which reports on and tracks safe deliveries in refugee camps and emergencies around the globe, is active on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, and aims to raise awareness about maternal health and the challenges faced by expectant mothers in crisis settings” (12/4).
The “progress and momentum” behind stopping mother-to-child HIV transmission is “reason to celebrate,” Charles Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Peter Twyman, CEO of Keep a Child Alive, write in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.” However, “as we set our sights on an AIDS-free generation, we must once again ensure that children currently living with HIV are not left behind,” they state. “Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the same level of progress with access to services for children who are already living with the virus,” they write and describe the challenges children and their families face in gaining access to HIV treatment and care, including stigma and fear and a lack of antiretroviral drug formulations for children.
New Public-Private Partnership Will Allow Brazil To Produce Patented ARV For National Treatment Program
For the first time, Brazil in 2013 will enter into a new type of public-private partnership that allows the nation to produce a generic version of the antiretroviral (ARV) drug atazanavir sulphate, which will be under patent through its producer Bristol-Myers Squibb until 2017, Inter Press Service reports. Under the “productive development partnership,” Farmanguinhos, “a technical-scientific unit of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Health Ministry’s largest pharmaceutical laboratory,” will make the drug, one of 20 ARVs the government distributes at a cost of about $425 million annually, according to the news service.
“After three decades of global emergency responses and a series of scientific breakthroughs in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is now tempting to ask if we are marching towards the end of AIDS,” an editorial in the Lancet states. Noting the November 29 release of the U.S. Government’s PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-Free Generation, the Lancet writes, “The first and foremost signal the report has sent is that the U.S. commitment to the global AIDS response will continue to be ‘strong, comprehensive and driven by science,'” and the report “calls on partner countries, civil society, donors, foundations, multilateral institutions, and people living with HIV to step up together and make concrete commitments.” The editorial continues, “The vision of ‘an AIDS-free generation’ in the blueprint relies heavily on scientific and technological feasibility … However, eradicating a disease goes far beyond scientific advances, which will go unrealized without strong social support and public health actions as well as substantial and sustainable investments.”
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine this week are hosting a conference in New York, titled “Lives in the Balance: Delivering Medical Innovations for Neglected Patients and Populations,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. In a video presentation, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim “told the conference … that the goal is to ‘lay the foundation of a health science that works for the poor,'” according to the newspaper. “That means innovative research on diseases and delivery systems geared to people in developing nations, not the more affluent ones, greater sharing of ideas, and support for developing nations so they can assist in the process from beginning to end,” the newspaper writes (Sell, 12/14).
In this White House blog post, Samantha Power, special assistant to the President and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the National Security Council, highlights progress made across the U.S. government in implementing “the first-ever Presidential Memorandum to advance the human rights of [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT)] persons.” The memorandum “require[s] all U.S. agencies engaged abroad to ‘ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,’ and to report annually on their progress,” she notes. Power discusses efforts undertaken by the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps, PEPFAR, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of Health and Human Services and other departments, as well as multilateral engagements. She writes, “We will continue to build on this foundation to identify new opportunities to advance and protect the human rights of LGBT persons” (12/13).
The WHO on Wednesday “released new guidelines [.pdf] providing technical recommendations on effective interventions for the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among sex workers and their clients,” New Europe Online reports. “The guidelines were developed in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and are directed, in particular, to national public health officials and managers of HIV/AIDS and STI programs, non-governmental organizations and health workers,” the news service notes (Gaydazhieva, 12/13).
“With the World Bank expected to announce a new funding package for the world’s poorest countries Wednesday, NGOs are making a last-minute appeal to donor countries to use their leverage to compel reforms at the institution,” Inter Press Service reports in an article examining the changes being requested and considered.