Tuesday, August 05, 2008

August 4, 2008

MEXICO CITY – After just two days of the 2008 AIDS Conference, the sheer number of topics covered by the various sessions emphasizes the far reach of this epidemic into society, how much has been discovered in the past 25 years, and how much remains to discover.

A panel entitled “Vaccines and Microbicides: Where do we go from here?” throbbed with the excitement and urgency of discovery: “We need to move forward with big investments. We have to be unafraid to fail,” said Tachi Yamada of the Gates Foundation. He announced the foundation’s new initiative, the Grand Challenges Exploration, which will aggressively fund new research and collaborations, and noted that vaccine research is more of an art than a science, with little predictive ability. Allan Bernstein of the Global Vaccine Enterprise emphasized the need to move away from product-science and instead attract young minds to research: “Unquestionably, the best way to stop HIV is a vaccine.”

Lack of knowledge was not the theme just a few hours later, but the lack of action. At a news conference on AIDS and Black America, Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress and activists, shouted into the microphone, “When will the national emergency take place?”

Black Americans make up 70 percent of new HIV diagnoses among teenagers; black women in the United States are 23 times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with AIDS. A new report put out by the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) called “Left Behind” outlines the severity of the epidemic among black Americans and calls for a US version of the PEPFAR bill. Phill Wilson, the director of BAI simultaneously praised the US government for its aid abroad and demanded that it do the same for its own citizens.

The dearth of information was again key at a joint news conference given by Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch on the arrest of two HIV doctors in Iran.
We don’t know the whereabouts of Dr Arash Alaei and Dr Kamiar Alaei, and we can only speculate about why they were detained in June. . Their disappearance has many human rights implications, most immediately that they’ve been denied legal counsel and access to their families.

“To fight AIDS effectively, the government has realized that it must engage in global efforts to combat the disease, work with civil society, and confront taboo issues including sex and drugs,” said Joe Amon, director the Health and Human Rights program at Human Rights Watch “The detention without charges of the Alaei brothers has a joint effect on all of those efforts.”

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