A Historic Opportunity to Usher in an AIDS-Free Generation

Nov 18, 2011, 4:30 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Some of the most interesting conversations overheard at the recent American Public Health Association annual meeting were among public health students discussing their plans to work in the developing world after graduation. Those plans often include a round trip ticket, says Jennifer Kates, Vice President and Director of Global Health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who says overseas public health posts build skills that often come back home. CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, for example, worked in India for six years where he helped develop that country’s tuberculosis treatment program.

The inter-connectedness of U.S. and global health was underscored in a major address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week at the National Institutes of Health. The Secretary pointed to recent, significant HIV and AIDS-related research findings and treatment advances largely spearheaded by U.S. funding and scientists. “[U.S.] efforts,” said Secretary Clinton, “have helped set the stage for a historic opportunity… to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.”

“The Secretary’s speech was an important marker to think about in a world that has changed its response to HIV,” said Kates. “It’s a marker because of who it was, that it was a policy goal, and that has not been a goal before,” said Kates.

Among the recent advances:

  • Research that shows the potential for voluntary medical male circumcision to reduce HIV incidence
  • Earlier initiation of AIDS treatment to reduce the likelihood of one partner passing HIV to another, uninfected one
  • Studies on the effectiveness of using vaginal microbicides to prevent infection in women
  • Pre-exposure preventive treatment in heterosexual and homosexual populations

“These approaches, combined with behavioral interventions, condom access, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, syringe exchange programs, and other initiatives present the opportunity to make real progress against the epidemic, said Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, in response to Secretary Clinton’s address.

Secretary Clinton went on to explain exactly what she meant by an AIDS-free generation: “one where virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as these children become children and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today thanks to a wide range of prevention tools; and third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.”

Additional advances are expected to be announced when the annual International AIDS Conference returns to the U.S. this July for the first time in 22 years. Conferences organizers decided decades ago not to allow the conference to be hosted by countries that banned entry to travelers who are HIV-positive. The U.S. ban was lifted in July 2010.

>>This continues a series of discussions around the impact of global health efforts here in the U.S. Read a related Q&A with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jennifer Kates around the U.N. High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases. In a Q&A with Public Health Newswire about the U.N. meeting and other topics, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who was a delegate at the meeting, said, “all nations need to apply what we can learn from other countries beyond our borders that are facing very similar public health challenges—and from leaders around the world who are on the vanguard of addressing the risk factors.” Read the full Public Health Newswire Q&A with Lavizzo-Mourey here.

>>Read more on global health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.