Global AIDS Leaders Discuss Worldwide Pandemic on WAMU’s ‘Public Interest’
WAMU's "Public Interest with Kojo Nnamdi," a syndicated NPR show, hosted a discussion Friday on policies to fight global HIV/AIDS worldwide. Guests on the program included Sri Chandar, Asia Pacific regional health adviser for World Vision International; Shawn Conway, Southern Africa executive director for the International Association for Physicians in AIDS Care; Charles Griffin, Latin America and the Caribbean sector manager for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank; Henning Mikkelsen, senior adviser for the Europe and America Division of the Secretariat of UNAIDS; Global Aids Alliance Executive Director Paul Zeitz; and International Association for Physicians in AIDS Care President José Zuniga. The discussion first focused on Uganda, whose policies have served as a model for fighting HIV/AIDS for many developing countries. When asked about Uganda's "very effective interventions" on HIV/AIDS, Zuniga said that "a remarkably high level of political commitment spearheaded by the president of the country" and a "commitment to prevention and care that involves a wide range of partners across all sectors to society" have been "key" to the country's success. "More often than not, the support that we provide is moral and resource support. ... Without diminishing the many contributions of the global community, the triumphant change that has occurred in Uganda, and could occur in other countries, must be appreciated and respected foremost as a successful program run by Ugandans," Zuniga said.
South Africa Policy Shift
Conway discussed South Africa's recent policy shift to no longer oppose the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat rape survivors and possibly provide nevirapine through the public health system to HIV-positive pregnant women. Conway said that the shift "legitimized almost immediately programs that were already taking place. ... People now have the space to do the work and get on with the job." Conway said that "all of the controversial policies relating to care and antiretroviral issues" come back to a "concern and belief" within governments that antiretroviral therapy is "not the magic bullet" that will resolve the "enormous epidemic" or is possibly not the "most appropriate" therapy for HIV/AIDS. However, Conway said that pilot programs in South Africa that are reducing the risk of vertical HIV transmission have "begun to prove successful, as predicted."
IV Drug Use Among Eastern European Youth
Addressing the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Mikkelsen said that the region is seeing new infections among young people from intravenous drug use and unsafe sex practices. He said, "Young people ... are living in a very uncertain situation with very difficult prospects for the future. That means that they ... experiment with their lives, and many of them unfortunately are experimenting with injected drug use." He added that the situation has "caused some denial" that HIV/AIDS is "only a drug user problem."
Zeitz called the global response to the pandemic "impotent" and stressed the importance of debt relief in fighting HIV/AIDS. He said, "African governments are paying $13 billion per year in debt servicing payments to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and rich countries. We believe that that money should stay in Africa and be used for poverty reduction and AIDS programs. The debt should be cancelled urgently and immediately so that these epidemics could be stopped." The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online (Nnamdi, "Public Interest with Kojo Nnamdi," WAMU, 5/10).