UN urges more funds for early HIV treatment

Report comes on heels of study showing medicines dramatically reduce spread of virus

EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations AIDS agency on Friday urged increased funding for early treatment of people with HIV following a new international study showing it could dramatically reduce the number of new infections through sexual transmission.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said pushing for early treatment “is at the top of the agenda” following the striking results of an international study overseen by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The nine-nation study offered convincing evidence of what scientists have long believed — that HIV medicines don’t just benefit the patient, but may act as a preventive by making those people less infectious. Earlier treatment in the study meant patients were 96 percent less likely to spread the virus to their uninfected partners, according to preliminary results announced last month.

Sidibe told a news conference launching a new report by UNAIDS that early treatment and prevention efforts must also be accompanied by better skills for health workers and sex education for young people.

“Access to treatment will transform the AIDS response in the next decade,” Sidibe said. “Anti-retroviral therapy is a bigger game-changer than ever before — it not only stops people from dying, but also prevents transmission of HIV to women, men and children.”

Sidibe stressed that billions of dollars will be needed to meet the agency’s vision for the future — “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.”

The report said “universal access” to drug treatment for those with HIV is achievable.

UNAIDS released the 139-page document ahead of today’s 30th anniversary of the first official report of what would become the HIV epidemic by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The General Assembly is holding a high-level meeting on AIDS at U.N. headquarters from June 8-10, where 20 world leaders and over 100 ministers are expected.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said at Friday’s launch that the world is “at a turning point in the AIDS response” and the meeting is an opportunity to “expand HIV services … (and) chart a new path.”

“The goal towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support must become a reality by 2015,” she said.

The last decade has seen a nearly 25 percent decline in new HIV infections, a reduction in AIDS-related deaths, and “unprecedented advances” in access to treatment, prevention services and care, the report said.

In India, which has the largest number of people living with HIV in Asia, the rate of new infections fell by more than 50 percent, while in South Africa, which has the largest number of HIV cases in Africa, the rate fell by more than 35 percent, the report said.

But UNAIDS said these achievements are unevenly distributed, exceedingly fragile, and fall short of global targets.

“People in rich countries don’t die from AIDS any more,” former U.S. President Bill Clinton wrote in the report, “but those in poor countries still do — and that’s just not acceptable.”

The report said more than 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2010 — including 2.6 million who became newly infected with the virus that causes AIDS in 2009.

It said the proportion of countries conducting systematic surveillance of HIV among high-risk populations increased between 2008 and 2010: from 44 percent to 50 percent for sex workers, and from 30 percent to 36 percent for gay men. An estimated 20 percent of the 15.9 million people who inject drugs worldwide are living with HIV, the report said.

An estimated 6.6 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving antiretroviral drug treatment at the end of last year, but about 9 million eligible people in those countries were not, the report said.

According to the report, investment in the response to HIV in low-and middle-income countries rose from US$1.6 billion in 2001 to US$15.9 billion in 2009.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface that “the number of people becoming infected and dying is decreasing, but the international resources needed to sustain this progress have declined for the first time in 10 years, despite tremendous unmet needs.”

Sidibe said financial challenges are putting “unprecedented downward pressure on funding sources, internally and internationally.” But he said the right approach can spur all countries “to do things better, with maximum value for money.”

The Lancet, a British medical journal, published a proposal developed byFriday a study group set up by UNAIDS which outlines what the group called “a more targeted and strategic approach to investment.”

Implemeting the new investment framework “would avert 12.2 million new HIV infections and 7.4 million deaths from AIDS between 2011 and 2020 compared with continuation of present approaches,” it said,

“The yearly cost of achievement of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support by 2015 is estimated at no less than $22 billion,” the Lancet report said, but in the long term the cost of responding to AIDS would be reduced.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance, HIV funding in jeopardy as session enters final month

Daniel Williams

Movement on anti-bullying bills, an impending budget fight in the Senate and late-night debate on redistricting in the House were the defining events of this, the 16th week of the the Texas Legislature’s regular session.

The Legislature traditionally takes a four-day weekend for Easter, so things were pretty sleepy around the Capitol until Tuesday, when a flurry of bills moved in both the House and Senate.

House Bill 2229 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, squeaked through the House after initially being tabled. The bill makes permanent the Texas HIV Medication Advisory Committee. Texas has a program that provides medication assistance to low-income HIV-positive people. The Advisory Committee provides input on the program from health professionals and clients. Earlier this year Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey dissolved the committee until public outcry forced him to reinstate it. Coleman’s bill seeks to prevent future commissioners from similarly disbanding the committee.

HB 2229 seemed poised to pass until an amendment to the bill by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, added a needle exchange program, a proven way to reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-born diseases. Many House Republicans oppose such programs arguing that, by providing clean needles to IV drug users, they condone drug use. The House voted on HB 2229 and it failed to pass, 53-89.

Fearing the demise of the bill, McClendon asked for an opportunity to withdraw her amendment. After she did the House tentatively approved HB 2229, 104-36. The final vote for House approval on Wednesday was 88-57. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee must now consider the bill for it to continue to advance.

Also on Tuesday, the House gave its final approval to anti-cyber-bullying House Bill 1666. Since 2009 it has been illegal in Texas to create a fake profile on a social network website to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten” someone else. HB 1666 by Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, expands the current law to include non-social networking sites like Youtube or Blogger (or the comments section of the Dallas Voice). The bill next goes to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for further consideration.

House Bill 718, which expands Texas’ law against picketing the funerals of members of the U.S. military to include a buffer three hours before and after the service, also passed the House on Tuesday. The bill, by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, is a direct response to the practice of Westboro Baptist Church’s (famous for their “God Hates Fags” slogan) practice of picketing the funerals of service members who died in the line of duty.

—  admin

Forum set to promote HIV awareness

from staff reports

Resource Center Dallas will hold a community forum seeking input to expand awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS in an effort to battle the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in Dallas County, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the center, 2701 Reagan St.

The forum is being held in collaboration with Dallas County and other community partners. It is free and open to the public.

Bret Camp, associate executive director for health and medical services at the center, said, “The goal is to lay groundwork for a community-driven effort that will reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, and to increase awareness of the services available to the public.”

He noted that a recent CDC study found that in 2008, one in five — or 19 percent of — men who have sex with men in 21 major U.S. cities are infected with HIV. Nearly half — 44 percent — were unaware of their infection.
The forum is part of the “Greater Than AIDS” project which responds to the AIDS crisis in the United States by targeting the severe and disproportionate epidemic among the gay community and African-Americans. The effort aims to raise knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS and confronts the stigma surrounding the disease.

Resource Center’s forum concentrates on gay men and will target communities most heavily affected, based on HIV/AIDS incidence and prevalence data, to ensure its success. Information gained will be used in strategic planning to reduce the number of HIV cases in the Dallas metropolitan area.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas