CommunityPam's House Blend

If AIDS only infected oil tycoons, Bush would have a cure by now

13,000 people die from AIDS every day in Africa.

House Blenders: “Radical” Russ is your barista for the next few days while Pam is on vacation for her anniversary.

The global pandemic that is acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) continues to kill people from all walks of life, regardless of nation, social status, or race, but nowhere is the devastation as severe as sub-Saharan Africa. According to Africa AIDS Watch

“AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa,” notes the UN report “is the worst infectious disease catastrophe since the bubonic plague.” In a White House publication on the same issue in 1999, a worried writer summarized the impact of AIDS on Africa in these chilling words: “Deaths due to AIDS in the region will soon surpass the 20 million people in Europe who died in the plague of 1347 and the more than 20 million people worldwide who died in the influenza epidemic of 1917. Over the next decade, AIDS will kill more people in sub-Saharan Africa than the total number of casualties lost in all wars of the 20th century combined.

So it goes without saying that President “Sanctity of Life” would put all its scientific and financial might behind alleviating the suffering, preventing new infections, and searching for a cure, right?

( Bush Administration AIDS Policies Continue to Fall Short

In his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush boldly stated, “I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.” But within a week, his administration was forced to restate its position, announcing that this proposed funding would not go to Africa and the Caribbean only, but rather was the total international budget.

Shortly before the [last World AIDS Conference] was convened, the administration announced it would send only one-quarter as many experts as had been sent the previous year, in an effort to save money. Dozens of scholarly presentations were withdrawn, and meetings to train Third World AIDS researchers and encourage international collaboration were cancelled.

The administration’s policy on international AIDS prevention also misses the mark. A requirement mandates that one-third of the funds spent on prevention programs, approximately $130 million, can only promote abstinence before marriage, and cannot support condom usage. Randall Tobias, U.S. Ambassador for AIDS Coordination, echoed this in a speech he gave before visiting Africa when he said, “Statistics show that condoms really have not been effective.” Given that 2.3 million Africans die annually as a result of AIDS, this was scientifically flawed and morally reprehensible.

The Bush administration has requested $3.2 billion in the 2006 budget for domestic and international AIDS programs. This represents merely 0.14 percent of the total American budget, and equals only seven percent of the budget for the Defense Department.

Well, we can’t be giving people condoms! That would send the wrong message… they might, you know, have sex (gasp!). Better to tell them to Just Say No; if it’s a good enough policy for heroin addicts and horny teenage girls in Texas, it’s good enough for Africans.

Aside from Bush’s fantasyland where ultra-poverty-stricken people save their virginity until marriage, his policies also ignore the fact that some of the AIDS problem in Africa is attributable to the second-class status of women in some African cultures and also from rape. Just Say No doesn’t work so well against a rapist and it’s often difficult to convince him to wear a condom.

Fortunately, the World Health Organization reports on a new weapon in the war on AIDS (wouldn’t be nice to hear that phrase more often) is the development of microbicides:

Microbicides are compounds that can be applied inside the vagina or rectum to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV. They can be formulated as gels, creams, films, or suppositories. Microbicides may or may not have spermicidal activity (contraceptive effect).

Without a preventive HIV vaccine, microbicides offer an alternative to condoms as the most feasible method for primary prevention of HIV.

Currently available HIV prevention techniques are often not feasible for many women who live in resource poor settings. The availability of microbicides would greatly empower women to protect themselves and their partners. Unlike male or female condoms, microbicides are a potential preventive option that women can easily control and do not require the cooperation, consent or even knowledge of the partner.

A recent cost-benefit analysis conducted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates that the introduction in 73 lower-income countries of a microbicide which reduced the risk of infection by 40%, at 30% coverage, would avert approximately 6 million HIV infections over 3 years in men, women and children. In addition, this would reduce the health care costs (excluding the cost of antiretroviral therapy) by a staggering 3.2 billion US dollars. This implies that a microbicide with relatively low-effectiveness could have a substantial impact against the global HIV epidemic if it were used by a significant number of women.

There’s only one unfortunate catch. This type of microbicide does not currently exist. The scientists are convinced it is close to development, but it needs more reseach and funding.

That’s where we come in. We need to raise awareness of this issue and support our elected representatives who are trying to bring more funding and research to the development of an effective HIV microbicide. From the Nation:

…[B]arely two percent of the US budget for HIV/AIDS research (already scandalously low) is spent toward [developing the microbicide]. To remedy this and kick-start work on what will eventually be hailed as a revolutionary medical breakthrough, Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Danny Davis (D-IL) will introduce the Microbicide Development Act (MDA) in the House this summer. The Global Campaign for Microbicides is organizing support for the bill as well as spearheading other efforts to increasing funding for R&D.;

Click here to ask your rep to vote for the MDA, click here to sign a petition for greater investment in microbicides, and click here for info on the medical and political history of microbicides.

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