Activists ask: Are Governments Too Busy Re-Hashing Old Battles to Stop AIDS?
Contact: Matthew Kavanagh, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 202-486-2488
On the eve of the UN “High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS,” The Lancet today published breakthrough modeling developed by UNAIDS that show how, with a relatively moderate increase in investment, it is actually possible to break the arc of the AIDS epidemic. Increasing the funding available globally by $5 billion per year by 2015 would prevent over 12 million new infections and save over 7 million lives. In turn, this modest increase would also reduce the cost of the AIDS response in the long term.
This model, together with two-week-old results from a clinical trial (called “HPTN 052”) showing that people on HIV treatment are 96% less likely to transmit HIV to sex partners, provide an electrifying breakthrough, 30 years into the AIDS crisis. But according to activists, donor governments are instead assuming deadly cuts to life saving programs are inevitable.
“The Obama Administration and Congress must wake up—it’s now clear that there is a stark choice,” said Matthew Kavanagh of Health GAP (Global Access Project). “We either work with the world to finance a full AIDS response now in order to break the back of the epidemic or new infections and deaths continue to mount and HIV—an infectious disease—regains speed. We have the data. Now this is a political question, and the politicians ducking it will have lives to account for if they fail to act.”
“Scaling up HIV treatment is a race against time—and this Administration and Congress will decide whether to put us on a path to success or failure. In one small town in Uganda—Mityana, just two hours outside of Kampala, we know at least 400 people are waiting in line for treatment, growing sicker. Many more do not yet even know they are HIV positive. This is the tip of the iceberg—around the world, millions are waiting in line for AIDS drugs that could save their lives while also helping protect their partners,” said Asia Russell of Health GAP. “We will never control this crisis unless we have treatment access for all. And failing to scale up HIV testing and AIDS treatment allows people die while blocking HIV prevention.”
HPTN 052 showed that, for preventative benefit, people with CD4 counts at least as high as the initiation point in much of the United States—500—should be ensured access to AIDS treatment and millions more added to rolls to save lives while halting the spread of HIV.
Yet instead of seizing the opportunity, government negotiators participating in the UN High Level Meeting are fighting old battles, uninformed by these real breakthroughs, according to activists. Many are prevaricating about whether to even plan to reach 80% of those at the much lower CD4 count of 350 used in impoverished nations. Wealthy nations, including the US, are focused hard on removing important language encouraging the manufacture of affordable generic versions of new medicines. While still others nations, led by the Vatican, Egypt, (example) and others, are trying to hijack the AIDS meeting to re-hash “culture-war” issues and deny human rights protections for women, men who have sex with men, and drug users.
“How can any responsible government do anything besides look at these results—see their life-saving implications—and sit down to serious negotiations about how to get affordable drugs into the hands of millions more people in the coming years paired with a combination prevention effort that can truly stop AIDS?” said Kavanagh.