Editorials call for renewed urgency and sound priorities in global AIDS efforts

Recent editorials and opinion pieces in several American newspapers have called for fresh urgency and fresh approaches as the US and the world face what the San Francisco Chronicle calls a “frustrating yet tantalizing turning point” in the ongoing global AIDS epidemic.  High on the list of demands: more realistic and better-informed priorities.

Rather than trying to summarize the five editorials* I’ll be looking at, I’d like to take some quotes and excerpts and group them by theme.  This should give a good, broad picture of the overlapping concerns raised in these opinion pieces.

Theme 1: AIDS is still a big deal

It has been difficult over the years to get a good statistical handle on the size of the AIDS problem in this country. But by the latest and most sophisticated measurements, the disease continues to frustrate federal and local efforts to rein it in.

New York Times

[S]low and steady isn’t good enough. As infection rates drop, so has the sense of urgency. Former President Bill Clinton, who has championed AIDS research in his elder-statesman years, spoke at the Mexico City gathering, but no other big-country leader showed up. No medical breakthroughs premiered. Protests were absent in hallways dotted with drug company trade-show displays. The public attention surrounding AIDS has faded.

There are doubts along the frontlines in the battle as well. AIDS is vacuuming up scarce medical money in poor countries, critics say. Also, life-sustaining drug regimens, such as those paid for by the giant U.S. aid program, amount to a costly future obligation. On a broader scale, will it ever be possible for national leaders to focus on a topic that touches so many hot-button topics: prostitution, drug use, women’s rights and civil liberty protections for HIV-infected people?

San Francisco Chronicle

It has been three decades since AIDS made its appearance. There was hope not long ago that the nation was bringing infections under control. The recent bad news means that the crisis is still with us.

New York Times

[While] some societies are busy playing the blame game to avoid taking on their fair share of the systematic responsibility for infections, the medical community, AIDS-service organizations and human-service agencies around the world are in the trenches trying to save lives. […] We will never have enough resources to defeat this epidemic if we don’t have the support of our communities. Probably the single largest barrier to gaining that support is the belief that ‘AIDS is not my problem.’

Kaiser Network / Winston-Salem Journal

It’s worth remembering how hopeless the AIDS scourge once seemed. There were demonstrations outside drug firms and government offices to demand attention and medical help. Big-city newspapers ran lists of obituaries of single young men. Washington rushed to bar foreigners who tested positive for the virus, a policy finally repealed this month.

AIDS remains lethal and unsolved. That should be reason enough to fight it. But the world should be encouraged by small steps that are paying off – and take even more of them.

– San Francisco Chronicle

Theme 2: More domestic funding needed for high-risk groups

A recent report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of people newly infected each year with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, is 40 percent higher than previously estimated. The report, based on new technology that allows more precise estimates, found that 56,300 people around the country became newly infected in 2006, well above the 40,000 cited in recent years.

New York Times

The CDC and city reports make abundantly clear that HIV/AIDS is a major American public health emergency that requires a national plan with strategies to address all of the social and economic factors key to winning the fight against this epidemic. To date, well over a million HIV-positive people live in the U.S. and 25% still don’t know their status.

Stated simply, government must ensure that the resources available for fighting HIV/AIDS follow the trends of the epidemic – and they haven’t. Resources are still being allocated according to where the epidemic was, not where it is.

New York Daily News

Greater efforts to control the virus by all levels of government are obviously required. There is an urgent need to focus even more on black and Hispanic communities, which are disproportionately infected, and on gay and bisexual men, who are increasingly becoming less cautious.

While the Bush administration has shown leadership in the fight against global AIDS, committing billions of dollars, domestic spending has been essentially flat. The C.D.C. spends some $750 million a year to prevent new infections. That effort has helped hold the number of new H.I.V. infections stable since 2000 even as the number of people living with the AIDS virus has risen, providing more opportunities for transmission. Federal officials need to redouble their efforts to lower the rate of new infections.

New York Times

The stunning new data released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscore, in the most dramatic terms possible, the inexorable movement of the HIV/AIDS epidemic into black and other minority communities and the failure of government at all levels to respond to that change.

It is nothing short of outrageous that three decades into this epidemic so little has been done to effectively target educational, health care and prevention resources to a community suffering such a disproportionate share of the pain. […]

Until the resources follow the epidemic, this public health emergency will continue to be fueled by the HIV/AIDS risk factors impacting black communities, including poverty, low literacy, stigma, use of illicit substances, unemployment, disproportionate incarceration and the lack of access to quality health care.

New York Daily News

Although the U.S. has “relatively abundant resources available to those living with HIV,” socioeconomic gaps continue to lead to higher rates of the virus among marginalized groups in the country, Christine Jolly, president of AIDS Care Service, writes. […]

Although many citizens in the U.S. “enjoy rights and a quality of life much higher than do people in other nations,” the fact that the country’s “legal system acknowledges constitutional and civil rights, but not human rights,” means there is a “void when it comes to advocating for the right to quality health care for everyone.”

Kaiser Network / Winston-Salem Journal

Theme 3: Justice demands targeted efforts to help marginalized groups

How do you stop the spread of AIDS in a country where it’s a crime to admit to homosexuality, or in areas where women and children are typically treated as chattel? […]

[W]ith less than 1 percent of global AIDS prevention funding targeted toward men who have sex with other men, the spread of HIV among the gay population will continue to grow, say officials with UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, the rate of infection among women in sub-Saharan Africa continues to grow at an alarming pace, in large part due to policies that deprive women of property rights and access to courts. In these countries, women (and their children) are far more likely to face hunger or violence. And they’re more likely to be forced into “survival sex” — including unprotected sex — that leaves them with HIV infections they then pass on to their children.

Daytona Beach News-Journal

According to Jolly, a “common thread” throughout the [XVII International AIDS Conference] was the acknowledgement that HIV prevalence rates are higher among marginalized populations in all countries, whether it be homosexuals, commercial sex workers, ethnic or religious minorities, and women. “To understand why marginalized populations are at higher risk of infection, you have to recognize that these groups often do not have equal access to housing, education, health care, clean drinking water or nutrition,” Jolly writes, adding, “Marginalized groups also face discrimination and have less control of funding streams for health and social welfare purposes.”

Kaiser Network / Winston-Salem Journal

Nations should continue to pour money into the battle to prevent HIV and treat AIDS, but the best defense against disease remains knowledge — and fundamental human rights. Any prevention program that doesn’t acknowledge that fact will have faltered before it begins.

Daytona Beach News-Journal

 
* The articles cited in this post are listed below.  Click the links to read the full texts.

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~ by h.e.g. on September 9, 2008.

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