Top Scientists and Policymakers to Advocates: Don’t stop pushing us

The message from global health heroes at both the RESULTS International Conference and the International AIDS Conference (IAC), overlapping today in Washington, D.C. is clear: the progress on HIV/AIDS has been spurred in a meaningful way by the loud voices of strong advocates.

Dr. Tony Fauci, at a session highlighting new frontiers in AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, said today at the IAC, “We would not be where we are today without the pushing and prodding of activists.” He also said that with the promise of the state of HIV research for drugs and vaccines, there’s “no excuse” for not moving aggressively forward with the know-how we have accumulated on effective disease prevention measures. The National Institutes of Health is the U.S. government institute responsible for basic research in health and medicine.

At the RESULTS Conference panel End of AIDS, the message was the same. Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, Lesotho Minister of Health, had a specific ask of advocates, especially this week as many visit Capitol Hill. The Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is essential to Lesotho, she said, and advocates must “speak on behalf of the Global Fund and show the results that it’s bringing so that donor countries [such as the U.S.] understand its power. The Global Fund is working towards the good of us all.” It’s especially helped countries with high burdens of TB-HIV co-infection, such as Lesotho and South Africa.

Dr. Pakishe Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa Minister of Health, thanked activists for taking a strong position and helping politicians do the right thing. “We know that sometimes we need activists to push us very hard. “

Dr. Myron Cohen, one of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-based principal investigators whose recent breakthrough research helped prove that HIV treatment is highly effective in preventing the spread of the infection, asked participants to remember (or imagine) times –only sixty years ago—when polio patients sometimes lived their lives in an iron lung. At that time, we couldn’t have imagined a preventive polio vaccine, but that’s exactly what happened. We may be in a similar phase with a vaccine for HIV. “We must redouble our efforts to cure this infection,” Cohen said.