International AIDS ConferenceThe International AIDS Society (IAS) hosted the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa from July 18 to July 22. The conference discussed the various improvements in HIV/AIDS science as well as challenges the medical community needs to address.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Access Equity Rights Now.” The event was designed to tackle inequalities in access to medical treatment, including barriers such as poverty, gender, race and location.

South Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world. According to UNAIDS, anywhere between 6.7 and 7.4 million people live with HIV in the country. Yet, more than 60 percent of those infected are not on antiretroviral treatment.

The previous International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne, Australia called for the Victorian State government to repeal a law discriminatory to the HIV-positive population. Additionally, the 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. led to the government removing the country’s travel ban on individuals with HIV.

The equity rights movement within the 2016 conference is a push toward equality for marginalized communities affected by the virus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two-thirds of new HIV infections occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers are among the various groups that are at a higher risk of infection. Even women face higher chances of transmission and greater barriers to treatment.

The International AIDS Conference brings together health professionals to improve the state of HIV/AIDS detection and treatment around the world. While there is still a long way to go in the struggle against this virus, statistics over recent years show promise.

The WHO reports a 35 percent decrease in new HIV cases in addition to a 28 percent decrease in deaths due to AIDS since 2000. With the majority of HIV cases in low and middle-income countries, the support of the international community is crucial to saving lives.

Saroja Koneru

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian singers
A remarkable number of singers spend time fighting poverty between recording sessions and tours. In particular, four humanitarian singers made an especially large impact through both creating and supporting various foundations.

1. Shakira

Shakira gained worldwide fame for her pop music with a Latin flare. However, she also leads a philanthropic career outside of music.

The artist primarily focuses on universal education and early childhood development. She founded the Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet) Foundation that looks to “bring education to every child in the world.”

Shakira also supports the ONE campaign, which mobilizes individuals to do their part to end extreme poverty.

Another campaign she promotes and supports is Habitat for Humanity. This organization strives to give everyone in the world adequate housing.

2. Bono

Bono is not only the leader singer of the world renowned band U2, but he is also well known for his humanitarian efforts. He has helped fight poverty by supporting and creating multiple campaigns and projects.

These include the ONE campaign and (RED), which advocates for an AIDS free globe. Bono also supports EDUN which encourages trade between impoverished countries in order to boost their economies.

In addition, he often participates in fundraising concerts to help raise money for these foundations and to promote important causes.

3. Elton John

Don’t let the sun go down on Elton John: he’s ready to change the world. The well-known singer and songwriter is also a supporter in the quest to eliminate AIDS around the world.

He created the Elton John AIDS Foundation in order to help reduce the AIDS epidemic. Consequently, his foundation has raised over $125 million, which has gone to support 55 different countries. This support promotes education prevention and provides services to those in need.

He also supports other foundations, such as AIDS LIFE, World AIDS Day and War Child.

4. Alicia Keys

“No One” can deny Alicia Keys’ contributions toward fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This singer also uses her powerhouse singing voice to speak for the unheard individuals.

She co-founded Keep a Child Alive, which focuses on the millions of children that die from AIDS in places where medical treatment is sub-par or unavailable. This foundation offers a range of services, including diagnostic testing and health care training.

In addition, Keys has traveled to Uganda, Kenya and South Africa to speak to those who have lost their parents to the deadly disease. She also raised money for the charity by offering a private concert as a prize in an auction.

In an interview with Everyday Health, Keys eloquently says, “Helping keep a child or mother or father or brother or sister alive means turning the worst epidemic of our lifetime into the greatest victory of our generation.”

5. Other Notable Humanitarian Singers

In addition, a coalition of humanitarian singers have all joined Water Now’s quest to provide people in need with clean water. These artists include Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Pharrell Williams, Adam Levine, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Hudson, 5 Seconds of Summer and Justin Bieber.

With the help of Watermill Express, every time a gallon of water is purchased at one of the 1300 kiosks dispensed around the United States, a gallon of clean water is donated on behalf of the buyer to a person in need in a developing country.

Humanitarian singers and celebrities continue to help raise money and awareness for global issues. All of the foundations they support and create are easy to find and donate to thanks to their philanthropic publicity.

Casey Marx

Photo: Shakira

fast-track approach to ending AIDS
From June 8 to 10, the UN General Assembly held the High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York City to draft a new Political Declaration on Ending AIDS and to introduce the Fast-Track approach to ending AIDS.

The Fast-Track approach to ending AIDS plans to increase and front-load investments in fighting the AIDS epidemic. This would be done in combination with scaled up coverage of HIV services in order to reduce the rate of new infections and AIDS-related deaths.

Greater investment in human rights, advocacy, civil society and community-based services are also essential to the Fast-Track approach, according to meeting documents.

The ultimate goals of the Fast-Track approach to ending AIDs are to ensure that fewer than 500,000 people are newly infected with HIV, to ensure that fewer than 500,000 people die from AIDS-related illnesses and to eliminate HIV-related discrimination.

UNAIDS, the branch of the UN working towards “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths” as part of the Sustainable Development Goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, said in a press statement that it wanted to hear from both individuals living with HIV and NGOs helping people on the ground during the meeting.

One such group is AIDS Outreach, an NGO located in Montana. Executive Director Bob Cruz said in an interview that most of his time is spent testing for HIV. His next biggest challenge is ensuring that those who test positive for HIV find an insurance package they can afford.

“Treatment is out there, but to get [people living with HIV] on it we need to know what insurance options are available,” Cruz said. “There are many, but they don’t know it.” According to Cruz, treatment for HIV can cost $3,000 to $4,000 per month.

In Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report, “On the fast track to ending the AIDS epidemic,” he noted that he has spoken with individuals about their difficulties obtaining the retroviral medicine they need.

Although past successful policies have extended access to retroviral treatment, the UN General Assembly’s zero draft political declaration states that people living with HIV “in low- and middle-income countries still remain without treatment.”

The declaration goes on to say that “a substantial proportion of people on antiretroviral therapy face social and structural barriers to good health, including lack of social protection, care and support and as a result struggle to adhere to their treatment.”

Until a recent funding cut, AIDS Outreach had offered support groups for people living with HIV and for men who have sex with men, a key population affected by HIV. Before the cut, Cruz said the groups gave people a sign of visible support. Their purpose was “to offer someone a space to talk about what is on their mind,” free of judgment.

If Cruz had more resources, he would restart AIDS Outreach’s support groups and put more time into educating people in schools and prisons. He would also want to ensure that people knew more about recent advancements in treatment, helping to reduce the fear and stigma of living with HIV.

According to Cruz, new treatments such as PrEP, a drug that people at very high risk for HIV take daily to lower their chances of getting infected, allow people to live without the constant fear of their immune system becoming compromised.

At the High Meeting, the zero draft political statement said that health needs must be addressed in a more holistic manner. The UN will not only work to ensure the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV, but also “health security, universal health coverage and health system strengthening and preparedness.”

As part of the greater investment in HIV prevention and treatment, and to provide more holistic treatment, key areas are in need of more resources.

According to meeting documents, community mobilization needs to rise to three percent of total HIV investment by 2020—three times the current amount. Investment in social enablers, such as advocacy, law and policy reform and stigma reduction, needs to rise to eight percent of total investment by that time.

In 2014, there was $19 billion available that had been invested in the prevention and treatment of HIV. Meeting documents stated that this needs to increase to $26 billion available annually by 2020.

It is hoped that this increased investment, along with better service coverage and a more efficient use of resources, will lead to the success of the fast-track approach to ending AIDS, resulting in declining annual resource needs after 2020.

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: Flickr

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ana_raquel/8363643633/in/faves-100442662@N03/UNAIDS Partnered With Faith-based Organizations to Strengthen HIV Response
UNAIDS and United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) collaborated with faith-based organizations (FBOs) in East Africa to launch a two-year initiative to strengthen their capacity to respond to HIV.

On Sep. 15, 2015, in the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, it was revealed that the five focus areas of the U.S. $4 million program are: collecting, analyzing and disseminating data; challenging stigma and discrimination; increasing demand for HIV services and retaining people in care; improving HIV-related service provision; and strengthening leadership and advocacy.

This new program is the result of suggestions made by faith leaders at a deliberation in April 2015. The conference hosted over 50 faith leaders from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The faith leaders called for more access to data, heightened accountability and better collaboration between FBOs and international partners.

The report, Building on Firm Foundations, which was released by the United Nations General Assembly, UNAIDS, PEPFAR and Emory University last month, highlights the impact of faith-based responses to epidemics in the four East African countries.

FBOs provided a majority of health services and sustained collaborative communities which maintain a disease-free environment for future generations.

PEPFAR’s partnership with FBOs has allowed them to reach 7.7 million people with lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and treat 14.2 million pregnant women, thus decreasing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The recently launched PEPFAR 3.0 – Controlling the Epidemic: Delivering on the Promise of an AIDS-free Generation set the ambitious goal of 90-90-90.

By 2020, PEPFAR aims to achieve: 90 percent of people living with HIV who know their status, 90 percent of people who know their status and are receiving treatment and 90 percent of people on HIV treatment who have a suppressed viral load.

Thus it is important to strengthen partnerships with FBOs, as they are primary health providers for many communities, and allow UNAIDS and PEPFAR to expand their impact.

Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, stated that “Faith-based organizations are essential partners, particularly in the areas of health service delivery and addressing stigma and discrimination. The partnership with faith-based organizations is critical to ending the AIDS epidemic and making sure that no one is left behind.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: UNAIDS, PEPFAR Report
Photo: Flickr

Device_to_Diagnose AIDS
Could a smartphone-powered device save millions from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?

Researchers at Columbia University seem to think that it can. A study showed that a small device, which is attached to the headphone jack of a smartphone, is nearly as effective as industry leading equipment in the detection of HIV and other pathogens in blood samples.

The catch? While current HIV detection equipment costs around $18,000, this new device, referred to as a ‘dongle’ costs $34 to make.

The new device to diagnose AIDS reads blood samples from a finger prick and can deliver results in 15 minutes. Researchers and developers hope the device will play a large role in the eradication of AIDS and HIV in Africa. In 2011, 70% of all deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa were reported due to complications involving AIDS and HIV.

Early detection is key to stopping the spread of the deadly virus. With such rapid response time, the device has the potential to save millions. Research shows that infected mothers who are diagnosed early and begin treatment can minimize the possibility of transmitting disease to their unborn children to less than 1%.

The research team just wrapped up clinical trials in Rwanda with extremely promising results, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the project a large grant. Device developers hope to gain regulatory approval from the World Health Organization so that they can begin mass production of the unnamed tool.

The unobtrusive nature of the new device is another benefit playing to the human aspect of medicine. As the study report says “Patient preference for the dongle was 97% compared to laboratory based tests, with most pointing to the convenience of obtaining quick results with a single finger prick.”

The study also claims the dongle can prove to be more effective in the diagnosing of AIDS is because 55% of patients in Rwanda report a fear of intravenous needles. The device puts most of those fears to rest.

Portability in addition to cost is what sets the device apart. It uses the smartphone’s power supply and thus can be used wherever a mobile device can be. The device is also no larger than any market standard cellular phone, and hardly requires any specialized training. It could be placed in the hands of doctors, hospitals, and NGOs across the globe. Researchers are confident that with recent advances in manufacturing technology that millions of units could potentially be made for a very low cost.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Reuters, Science Translational Medicine
Photo: voanews

AIDS and TBIn an August 11th press release, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced a $41 million financial injection to Sudan to advance its response to the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB) epidemic.

Sudan is an African Country in the Nile Valley of North Africa bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, to the east, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west and Libya to the northwest.

Although recent years have seen improvements in the response to HIV/AIDS and TB, the illnesses maintain their death grip on the population.

The UNDP in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS have created two new partnership agreements totaling $41 million for the country to continue fighting the deadly diseases.

The funding is broken into two grants. The first grant worth $20.4 million will be used to manage and track the decrease in TB cases from now until 2017, as well as to commit to identifying more new cases.

By identifying more cases of TB, the disease can be better controlled and spread less. The grant will also go toward improving treatment for 90 percent of newly infected patients as well as for 75 percent of those undergoing a relapse.

The second grant amounting to $20.8 million will go toward halting the spread of HIV among communities most at risk between now and 2017. The grant will also work at keeping the HIV prevalence rate below 2.5 percent among key populations and below 0.3 percent among the general population.

The UNDP, since 2005, has been a key organization assisting Sudan with its ongoing health care challenges. It’s played an important role in decreasing the transmission and morbidity rate of HIV and TB plaguing the Sudanese.

In the past few years, the UNDP has assisted the government with containing the epidemic, increasing service coverage and strengthening the national health system.

The UNDP website reported that the number of people accessing HIV counseling and testing increased from 14,000 in 2007 to more than 250,000 in 2014. In the same period, the number of health facilities providing antiretroviral treatment increased from 21 to 36.

Also, as of 2014, the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment has increased to 3,937 from only 319 back in 2007.

UNDP Sudan Country Director Mr. Selva Ramachandran was quoted in the press release to say, “UNDP’s goal is to strengthen the response at the national, state and local level by supporting the development of local expertise and backstopping program performance.

To get TB under control, the authorities are planning to provide social support to patients and develop a national campaign to fight the stigma and discrimination that severely hinders TB efforts. Regarding HIV, testing is essential to bend the curve of the epidemic and we remain committed to supporting the provision of HIV testing, counseling and treatment to those in need.”

In nations like Sudan, poverty grips the population and health care can be almost nonexistent. With the help of the UNDP and the extra funding given, the fight to help the poor in Sudan has again gained momentum, and another dent in ridding these ugly diseases has been made.

Jason Zimmerman

Sources: United Nations Development Programme, The Global Fund,
Photo: Flickr

The Latest in AIDS Research from UNC Chapel Hill
There’s good news and bad news for those who suffer from AIDS in the developing world.

On July 20, researchers, public health institutions, international policy makers and numerous others gathered in Vancouver, Canada for the eighth International AIDS Society Conference. Myron Cohen of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease, had an interesting announcement. This announcement was the result of a huge, cross-sectional study on AIDS called HPTN 052 that he conducted on over 1,700 couples worldwide.

It wasn’t the first time that a major breakthrough had come out of Vancouver. At the same conference in 1996, AIDS research showed that it was possible to effectively treat AIDS, when contracting the disease previously would almost always lead to an early death.

First, the good news. According to Cohen, a particularly potent cocktail of AIDS medications can effectively render the disease incommunicable, as long as medicines are taken consistently. In the study, the treatment was shown to cut the risk of infection by 96 percent. This type of preventative treatment is known as antiretroviral therapy. If patients stop taking these antiretroviral drugs, the infection will reemerge.

While the study was almost entirely confined to heterosexual couples, Cohen said that, “Observational studies show it should work in men who have sex with men and we’re doing a study now looking at intravenous drug users.”

This means that if the current generation of those who suffer from AIDS can adhere to a strict regimen, they can avoid passing on the disease to successive generations. If treatment is widespread enough, this could eventually eradicate the disease.

However, there is a downside. The combination of antiretroviral drugs that can cripple the disease are quite expensive, making them all but inaccessible to the poor.

This hasn’t stopped the World Health Organization (WHO) from enthusiastically recommending that anyone who tests positive for HIV be immediately given antiretroviral treatment. WHO had previously recommended antiretroviral therapy for certain demographics, such as pregnant women and children, but has since expanded their recommendation based on the results of the study. Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS division, has noted that reaching currently untreated populations around the world would require an extra $30 billion in funding.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who funded Cohen’s study, has said that, “For a long time there was the tension between whether you should focus on preventing HIV infection or treating HIV infection, [but] HPTN 052 showed that treatment is prevention.” However, given that antiretroviral treatment is so expensive, prevention strategies such as the use of condoms should still probably remain a prominent feature of global health policies.

Fortunately, there is cause to be optimistic about the capacity of global institutions and aid contributors to address the AIDS epidemic. Michel Sidibe, executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, points out that the world has reached its target of treating 15 million of the 35 million people infected with the virus worldwide by 2015. Perhaps in another 15 years, the remaining 20 million people who suffer from AIDS will have access to treatment as well.

Derek Marion

Sources: Charlotte Observer,, Nature, Ahram
Photo: Instinct Magazine

UN Report Reveals Goals Met in HIV Prevention for 2015
A UN report released on July 14 revealed that the sixth goal of the Millennium Development Goal agenda– to halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015– has been met six months ahead of schedule. According to the report, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 41 percent since the MDGs were implemented in 2000, while new HIV infections have fallen by 35 percent. The report also reveals that the international commitment to the MDGs and to ending the HIV epidemic has averted 7.8 million AIDS-related deaths and 30 million new incidents of HIV prevention.

The MDGs, which were created by the UN in partnership with the largest gathering of world leaders in history 15 years ago, consisted of a list of eight goals that countries committed to reach as part of the UN Millennium Declaration. UN reports released this year, which have analyzed the success of the MDGs, have revealed that many of the goals have been successfully met.

Efforts to achieve MDG Goal 1, to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, for example, resulted in a decline in the number of people living in extreme poverty by 130 million between 1990 and 2002. Efforts to achieve MDG 4, to reduce child mortality rates, also helped child mortality rates fall from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88 within the same time period. The success in achieving MDG 6, however, has been particularly remarkable, especially given that in 2000, AIDS was one of the biggest killers in the world.

The results of the recent report also represents a huge success in the way that UN goals are measured; since it reveals that success in achieving MDG benchmarks can actually be quantified with real, hard data when the international community puts in a concerted effort to record progress in achieving a specific goal. The success of MDG 6 of HIV prevention is also regarded as one of the smartest investments in global health and development to be reached in recent history.

UNAIDS has also stated that the result of efforts to combat HIV and AIDS illustrates a theoretical success, since it reveals a seismic change in the way that the international community regards illnesses that have traditionally been concentrated in poor, non-Western areas such as sub-Saharan Africa.

“Fifteen years ago there was a conspiracy of silence. AIDS was a disease of the “others” and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “We proved them wrong, and today we have 15 million people on treatment—15 million success stories.”

No longer is AIDS regarded as an irrelevant and far-off illness, but a disease that affects the international community and global world as a whole. Moreover, the international community has realized that in order to meet goals such as MDG 6, collaborative efforts need to be made not only horizontally–among and between various international organizations–but also vertically, including individuals, civil society organizations and NGOs across the world.

As the Millennium Development Goals transition into the Sustainable Development Goals this year, UN officials have argued that more aggressive steps need to be taken to continue the work achieved in slashing the AIDS epidemic and increasing HIV prevention.

“The world has delivered on halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Now we must commit to ending the AIDS epidemic as part of the Sustainable Development Goals [by 2030]”.

Ana Powell

Sources: UN, UNAIDS, UN Millennium Project
Photo: UN

The Threat of a Major AIDS Resurgence
Is AIDS on the rise despite the increase in HIV treatment availability throughout the world? A recent report by the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and The Lancet, a medical journal, have called attention to the emerging risk of a major AIDS resurgence in already affected regions.

According to the study, high rates of population growth in heavily affected areas and staggering infection rates, which continue to only fall slowly, will increase the number of people who need access to life saving treatment.

Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and lead author of the report, Professor Peter Piot, stated, “We must face hard truths — if the current rate of new HIV infections continues, merely sustaining the major efforts we already have in place will not be enough to stop deaths from AIDS increasing within five years in many countries.”

Among the most vulnerable populations, women and girls have not reaped the same benefit from slowly falling infection rates in comparison to their male counterparts. According to U.N. News Centre, AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of death for Sub-Saharan woman and girls of reproductive age.

The population of HIV-positive adolescent girls reaches sevenfold that of males. Additionally, many adolescent girls become infected with HIV 5 to 7 years before men.

In a commitment to prevent new HIV infections and increase treatment among women and girls, UNAIDS and the African Union have come together in a report called “Empower young women and adolescent girls: Fast-Track the end of the AIDS epidemic in Africa”.

“As we work with our communities, our networks, our health service providers and our governments, we must commit to demanding a comprehensive focus on young women in the AIDS response,” said Rosemary Museminali, UNAIDS Representative to the African Union.

In this response lies the answer to the threat of resurgence. As the study argues, efforts to combat AIDS must be enhanced to proportionally treat those infected, improve knowledge and prevention, and provide better access to medication.

More recently, the United Nations sponsored a successful deal with Roche Diagnostics in order to reduce the price of early infant diagnostic technology by 35 percent to US$9.40. Early diagnosis of HIV is essential to accessing treatment at a vital stage since many children who go undiagnosed only live up to 2 or 5 years.

“We have to act now,” Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS cautions, “The next five years provide a fragile window of opportunity to fast-track the response and end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. If we don’t, the human and financial consequences will be catastrophic.”

– Jaime Longoria

Sources: UNAIDS, UN News Centre 1, UN News Centre 2, UN News Centre 3

Photo: HealthNest

global_health_corps
Former President George W. Bush is remembered for his efforts to combat AIDS in Africa during his time in the Oval Office, but, as it turns out, he isn’t the only Bush with a passion for global health.

It was on a trip with her father to Uganda in 2003 that Barbara Bush, the elder of the former president’s twin daughters, was shocked by the toll AIDS was taking on population and the health inequality in the country.

One of the 43rd president’s lasting legacies is his creation of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which as of September of last year had supported life-saving treatment for seven point seven million people with the virus, in addition to helping provide over 56.7 million people with testing and counseling.

After graduating from Yale with a humanities degree in 2004, Barbara worked at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Capetown, South Africa, where she frequently worked with kids with AIDS, before returning to the United States to try to mobilize the global health movement and get more people involved.

The end result was she and five friends creating Global Health Corps, which she became chief executive of at the age of 26. The organization gives young professionals the chance to work at the front of the fight for global health equity and places fellows in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, the United States, and Zambia.

According to Global Health Corps website, the goal of the organization is “to mobilize a global community of emerging leaders to build the movement for health equity.” The website also says that health is a human right.

Fellows are placed with organizations, such as Partners in Health, in either of the two continents, where two fellows work together for a year. One fellow is from the host country, whereas the second is from abroad.

For example, young professionals with expertise in logistics worked to improve drug access in Tanzania by working on the supply chain. In Rwanda, architects designed medical clinics with less airflow, making it less likely that those with tuberculosis would infect others.

Today, Global Health Corps is booming, receiving praise from health professionals around the world. In addition, the organization gets around 6,000 applications a year for fewer than 150 fellows positions.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Global Health Corps, The New York Times, PEPFAR
Photo: Huffington Post