August 1, 2011 – 12:25 pm
By Alison Root and Mandy Slutsker
“We didn’t give up when we didn’t have the answers, so we can’t give up now that we do.” Regan Hofmann, Editor-in-Chief, POZ magazine.
Last week we attended a Capitol Hill summit, “Making AIDS History: Ending the Epidemic” organized by the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), marking the progress made to date and the incredible opportunity we have to turn the tide against the disease. The event boasted appearances by TV personalities Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Matthews, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria Director Dr. Michel Kazatchkine and members of Congress including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Jim Himes (D-CT) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY).
With such a star-studded cast and evidence-based modeling in hand, the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building maintained a high level of enthusiasm throughout the afternoon. From both the global and domestic lens, the message was the same: we have the tools to end HIV/AIDS - it’s now a matter of making it reality.
New research proves what scientists have suspected for years - that antiretroviral therapy (ART) stops the spread of HIV - making ART a tool for both treatment and prevention. ART is also a critical tool in the fight against TB. It reduces the risk of TB disease by two-thirds, cuts recurrence rates in half, and improves the survival of HIV patients with TB. Now that we know the enormous impact of ARTs on HIV transmission, Dr. Fauci reminded us that only 42% of people living with HIV have access to this lifesaving medication. We know what must be done, but will we have the resources to do it?
Hope for ending AIDS is severely undercut by the U.S. government’s budgetary environment and lack of knowledge about what we are able to achieve. Members of Congress who attended the event appeared worried about our ability to find resources to conquer HIV/AIDS. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) reminded us that current budget discussions have a real impact on our ability to end the epidemic. Rep. Jim Himes pointed out that nearly half of his colleagues would not be able to explain what PEPFAR is, nor what ART stands for.
So what can we do about this? According to Cokie Roberts, contributing senior news analyst for National Public Radio, we must continue to advocate for funding of HIV/AIDS programs and research. Chris Collins, Vice President and Director of Public Policy at amfAR pointed out, “with the evidence in hand, policymakers now face a choice: investing strategically today to accelerate the end of AIDS, or paying for the response to the pandemic for generations to come.” We need to advocate with our members of Congress and let them know what a critical time it is for ending the AIDS epidemic. From both a moral and fiscal perspective, it makes sense to scale up our investments in HIV rather than cut back.
It’s our job to create the political will to end AIDS, and turn the tide against TB-HIV co-infection. We have the research, we just need to turn it into action.
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 Reynolds, S.J. et al. (2011). “HIV-1 transmission among HIV-1 discordant couples before and after the introduction of antiretroviral therapy.” AIDS 25(4): 473-477.
 Lawn, S.D. et al. (2011). “Antiretroviral therapy and the control of HIV-associated tuberculosis. Will ART do it?” International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 15(5): 571-581.
 Management Sciences for Health (2009). Reversing the AIDS Epidemic through Third-Generation Health Systems: A Call to Action. Available at <http://www.msh.org/resource-center/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=44531>