Senate Committee To Hold Hearing on HIV Transmission in Africa; Could Have ‘Major Implications’ for International AIDS Funding
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday is scheduled to hold a hearing on research that claims that unsafe medical practices, not unprotected heterosexual sex, account for the majority of African HIV/AIDS cases, a move that could have "major implications" on the focus of proposed funding to fight AIDS worldwide, the Associated Press reports (McMurray, Associated Press, 3/24). The studies, published in the March issue of the International Journal of STD & AIDS, said that despite the consensus among AIDS organizations that heterosexual contact has accounted for 90% of HIV cases in Africa, only one-third of the total cases have been transmitted in this manner; the researchers conclude that unsafe medical practices are a "much greater risk" in HIV transmission. The findings are based on studies conducted by a team of eight researchers from the United States and Germany led by anthropologist David Gisselquist, in which they reexamined research on HIV epidemiology conducted in Africa up to 1988. The researchers state that previous studies failed to account for the fact that HIV transmission in Africa did not follow the same pattern of other sexually transmitted diseases and that high rates of HIV/AIDS can be attributed to contaminated blood transfusions, the reuse of dirty needles in the administration of vaccinations and injections and the use of improperly cleaned surgical instruments. An UNAIDS/WHO expert group earlier this month rejected the claim, saying that "such suggestions are not supported by the vast majority of evidence" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/17).
"We want to see if these findings hold up in the face of critical analysis," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who called the hearing, said, adding, "If it is true, we need to start this very day because this very day, adults are being infected with AIDS without their knowledge in a way that could be easily prevented." At the hearing, Gisselquist will testify, along with Maria Wawer, a professor of clinical health at Columbia University, who has conducted research on AIDS in Uganda. Wawer said that her research suggests that injections account for less than 10% of new HIV infections in Uganda and that "[i]f resources are taken away to work on the injection side, that could backfire." Gisselquist said that a "major" amount of funding should go to public education efforts and less than $1 billion a year would be needed to buy disposable needles and fund education for public health facilities (Associated Press, 3/24).
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the committee hearing will be available online at 12 p.m. on March 28.