World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  There is a big event in DC planned to pay lip service to ending this horrible disease.  Bono will be there.  President Obama will be there.  Former Presidents Clinton and Bush will be there.  It’s too bad that this comes on the heels of the announcement that for the first time since it was founded ten years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has cut funding to poor countries.  This funding is essential for programs in these countries and its absence will have devastating consequences for millions of people.  This is literally a question of life or death for millions of people.

The Global Fund now directly keeps alive 3.2 million people on anti-retroviral treatment.  (Together with other funders that means that around 6.6 million people are now on these life-saving drugs.) It has financed 8.2 million courses of TB treatment and the distribution of 190 million insecticide-treated nets to fight malaria.  We are seeing a historic turn in the progression of these pandemics.  — Jeffrey Sachs, Politicians just don’t care enough to tackle this scourge.

Health care is a basic human right.  That’s just my opinion.  That’s part of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This is not the time to withhold funding vital to programs that are working.  Malaria prevention efforts are starting to have a real impact in places like Africa.  We tend to think of certain infectious diseases as being other people’s problems.  They strike in poor countries, far away from us.  The problem with that thinking — other that the callous nature with which we view the world through the prism of how does this impact me personally? — is that is is just wrong and shortsighted.  Infectious diseases, for instance, that kill people over there, are just as deadly when they strike here.  These are often diseases of poverty, we have that here.

Over the past year, I have been working with a nonprofit health organization — they develop and deliver medicines for infectious diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis, which is nearly 100 percent fatal when left untreated.  Like AIDS, it destroys its victims immune system.  Our military personnel are being infected because they are fighting in areas where it is endemic.  New studies also show an increasing number of co-infections – -VL & AIDS.

TB is a scourge in the US, too.  Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation.  What’s worse is that many cases are of the drug resistant variety, a side effect of a treatment that can take up to two years is that people don’t follow through with the full treatment.  (Topic for another day is how our antibiotic abuse is making them less effective. short version, if your doctor doesn’t give you one for the sniffles, don’t demand one.)

Other, less famous diseases such as Dengue Fever are making a comeback in the US as well.  The mosquito that carries the potentially deadly illness has been found as far north as North Carolina.  Mosquitoes don’t care about borders.

The bottom line is that if a disease can strike anywhere, it can strike anywhere.  We risk losing important ground gained over the past decade because we lack the political will to do the right thing.

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