House Committee Praises Bush Administration for Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS Pandemic, Cites Further Challenges
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs during a hearing on Tuesday applauded the progress of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in its fight against HIV/AIDS worldwide but raised questions about the program's long-term strategy for tackling challenges associated with the pandemic, CQ HealthBeat reports. According to CQ HealthBeat, the hearing "provided a preview" of the issues that might arise when Congress reviews PEPFAR for reauthorization next year. Ambassador Mark Dybul, who serves as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator and administers PEPFAR, said the program is on track to reach its goals. As of September 2006, about 822,000 people were receiving access to antiretroviral drugs with PEPFAR support, Dybul said. He added that 61.5 million people had been reached by HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns. Some committee members asked how PEPFAR can help strengthen health systems and infrastructure in focus countries, as well as address shortages of health care workers, CQ HealthBeat reports. Other members asked how PEPFAR programs could partner with other programs to prevent HIV-positive people from contracting other diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria. According to Dybul, some PEPFAR-funded laboratories are used to diagnose TB. In addition, some committee members raised concerns about recommendations in a recent Institute of Medicine report that Congress eliminate all budget allocations in PEPFAR, including spending requirements for prevention efforts and abstinence and fidelity programs. Dybul said such funding allocations have been useful in addressing HIV/AIDS prevention issues, adding that PEPFAR allows each focus country to develop its own HIV/AIDS prevention strategy. Dybul said it would be years before the use of new technologies, such as an HIV/AIDS vaccine and microbicides, could be put into place. He also said that PEPFAR is examining circumcision programs following recent studies that found male circumcision can significantly reduce HIV transmission through heterosexual sex. Dybul said, "We're still in an emergency," adding, "The trick is how you respond to an emergency and at the same time build a sustainable response." Committee Chair Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) said, "The battle against HIV/AIDS is a marathon, it is not a sprint" (Blinkhorn, CQ HealthBeat, 4/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.