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International AIDS Conference: Good News for Women and Children Fighting HIV

The XVIII International AIDS Conference is underway in Vienna, Austria, and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention have lots of positive news to share.

United Nations Joint AIDS Programme deputy director Paul De Lay announced that the “virtual elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV” is possible by 2015, according to USA TodayAnti-HIV drugs have eliminated almost all instances of mother-to-infant transmission of HIV in the U.S. and other developed countries.  Antiviral medications have also been successful in allowing HIV positive women to breastfeed their infants without transmitting the disease, per The World Health Organization.

Treatment for children with HIV rose from 276,000 in 2008 to 355,000 worldwide in 2009.  But “the WHO is calling for greater access to infant diagnosis starting at four to six weeks after birth.  Without diagnosis followed by prompt treatment, roughly a third of HIV-infected infants will die before their first birthday.  Half will die before reaching two years of age,” USA Today reports.

Mother-to-infant HIV transmission remains at a high level in sub-Saharan Africa, as the region is home to more than two-thirds of all people infected with HIV.  UNAIDS prevention advisor Karusa Kiragu says that without intervention, “there is a 45 percent chance that a baby there will be infected by its mother,” per Voice of America.

Of course one way to prevent mothers from passing the virus on to their children is to help them avoid contracting the disease.  Voice of America reports, “South African researchers have made a scientific breakthrough in the fight against AIDS with a vaginal gel that significantly reduces a woman’s risk of being infected with HIV.  Experts say the gel could be a revolutionary prevention tool, empowering women to protect themselves against partners who refuse to use condoms.” 

California congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Barbara Lee, “is calling on the Obama administration to make a three-year, six billion dollar commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.”  Lee understands that government funds are tight, but says that the money could be re-allocated from “the wasteful Pentagon budget.”  She says, “There are many weapons systems that just don’t need to be there.  They’re based on Cold War era weapons systems that need to be really written out of the budget.”  Lee also hopes to raise funds by reducing tax breaks for wealthy Americans.

Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates agrees that governments should continue funding the fight against AIDS.  He says the turbulent economic climate “has driven up government deficits and many countries responded by freezing or even reducing their investments in global health.  We have to do everything we can to change that.”

Former President Bill Clinton, the keynote speaker on Monday, added, “This year’s conference theme Rights Here, Right Now reminds us that health care should be a right for everyone, but isn’t.  Notwithstanding the current economic difficulties, the evidence of the progress that has been made in the last few years is not an excuse to walk away from that right.  It’s an excuse to run toward it for all of us.”

The second phase of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief “calls for extending treatment to more than four million patients, preventing 12 million new infections and providing care for 12 million people living with HIV.”

Image: Sully Pixel via Flickr

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