The EngenderHealth News Blog
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What It Will Take to Achieve an AIDS-Free Generation

In a November 8 address, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set forth a bold vision that the end of HIV and AIDS is finally in sight, marking the first time in history that the U.S. government has made it a policy priority to end HIV and AIDS.

Major scientific advances in the last few years offer an historic opportunity for achieving an AIDS-free generation, Secretary Clinton said. This goal is attainable through a combination of three proven interventions—prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), voluntary medical male circumcision, and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to prevention transmission—in addition to condoms and other prevention tools. The Obama Administration is characterizing this approach as “combination prevention.”

Here, EngenderHealth experts on HIV and AIDS offer their perspectives on the U.S. government’s new policy as well as the new 2011 Worlds AIDS Day report released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

Pamela W. Barnes, President and CEO

Bringing family planning back into the conversation…

I fully applaud the ambitious goal set forth by the Obama Administration, yet its response doesn’t measure up to the realities facing the majority of individuals living with HIV—women and girls—in Africa. Achieving an AIDS-free generation will require a broad, integrated approach that extends beyond PMTCT to include reproductive choice, which is a fundamental human right for women and girls and an indispensable component of a comprehensive solution to ending HIV and AIDS. (Photo: Pamela Barnes on the right)

Family planning is part of a four-pronged approach to achieving strong sexual and reproductive health for women living with HIV. We can all cheer when a mother gives birth to an HIV-free baby—no doubt, PMTCT is a critical tool for HIV-positive women who wish to expand their families. But the reality is that we cannot have comprehensive PMTCT without family planning.

To be effective, PMTCT services must encompass comprehensive care for pregnant women, mothers, and newborns, including family planning, primary prevention, and care and treatment for HIV-positive women and infants. Moreover, women with HIV who have just delivered a healthy baby through PMTCT must also have the means to avoid or delay future pregnancies, if that is what they wish to do.
The bigger picture of reproductive health...
In the broader context of sexual and reproductive health, we must also ask ourselves: How do we keep that same mother healthy throughout her life? She may access HIV treatment, but in these very same places, getting pregnant is one of the riskiest things she can do. For example, in places like Niger, a woman has a one in 16 chance of dying due to pregnancy in her lifetime, so meeting a woman’s broader reproductive health needs, including family planning, is imperative if we are to make measurable progress.
Paul Perchal, Director, HIV and STI
Universal access to HIV programs is the lynchpin to achieving an AIDS-free generation…

We are in a truly new era of the AIDS response, with unprecedented opportunities for realizing an AIDS-free generation, but we have a long way to go. Universal access to HIV programs is the lynchpin to achieving an AIDS-free generation. By the end of 2010, only about 47% of eligible people living with HIV were on ARV treatment, and about 48% of pregnant women living with HIV received PMTCT treatment. Moreover, after male circumcision was shown to offer protection against HIV, the United Nations set a goal for 20 million African men to be circumcised by 2015, yet to date only about 600,000 have undergone the procedure. For these numbers to change, strong referral networks are key – they help with client follow-up, and will be critical in scaling up comprehensive prevention, care, and treatment programs.
On “combination prevention” (PMTCT, MC, and care and treatment)…

Combining proven approaches must also include behavioral interventions (such as encouraging people to use condoms to reduce risks of transmission) and structural interventions (such as using microfinance loans to reduce women’s dependence on transactional sex for income). Even if HIV services are available, people may not access them or adhere to care and treatment unless they develop positive health-seeking behaviors and can do so without facing stigma and discrimination.
A shared responsibility…

An effective global response to HIV and AIDS involves a shared responsibility and ongoing moral and financial commitment from both developed and developing countries, communities, and donors. We also need to help support and strengthen local governments and civil society organizations by building their institutional capacity to increase transparency and accountability and ensuring that donor resources actually reach the people they are meant to support in a timely and cost-efficient way.
On the new global framework described in the 2011 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report…

The comprehensive global framework for HIV and AIDS should deliver significant results if countries, donors, and multiple development sectors can commit to it. The framework underscores the need to promote “social enablers,” such as human rights and the capacity of community-based organizations, as well as “program enablers,” such as community-centered program design and delivery, integration, management and incentives, and research and innovation.

Achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support by 2015 through the framework will require scaling up funding, including moving closer to spending 15% of government revenue on health (as per the Abuja Declaration for Africa), as well as using existing resources more cost-efficiently. It will also require leveraging synergies with other sectors such as gender, education, social protection and welfare, and economic development.

Finally, maximizing critical enablers requires program efforts and new innovations that function together and include a combination of biomedical, behavioral, and structural components.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

U.S. Troops Deploy to Central Africa to Fight Sexual Violence

Restoring stability could increase access to critical health care in the region
The U.S. government is deploying 100 troops to Central Africa to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old organization notorious for rape, sex slavery, and other forms of violence against women. The troops will be armed for self-defense but will primarily advise regional military forces in hunting down the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, who became the International Criminal Court’s first indictee for war crimes about 10 years ago.

Since 1987, the LRA has terrorized civilian populations throughout the central African region, including parts of Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Uganda, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Over the years, tens of thousands of children have been abducted to serve as child soldiers, women and girls were enslaved for sex, while tens of thousands more were disfigured or killed. Those who have been displaced by the violence continue to live in refugee and displacement camps with little opportunity for education, work, or proper health care.

While it will inevitably take time, restoring stability in the region is a prerequisite for improving physical security and developing roads and other critical infrastructure that are key to expanding people’s access to medical care. This includes access to quality reproductive health care, a goal that EngenderHealth works to achieve in both Uganda, the DRC, and throughout Africa. EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care project supports health centers in both Uganda, where the LRA originated, and the DRC, where the group continues to operate today. The project focuses on providing treatment for women living with fistula resulting from both obstetric and traumatic injury. Read a story
about EngenderHealth-trained fistula surgeons in the DRC.

Some consider President Barack Obama’s deployment decision to be a positive sign that the United States will not tolerate sexual violence in Africa. The decision to deploy is consistent with legislation in Congress, the “International Violence Against Women Act” (IVAWA), which aims to establish gender-based violence as a top priority for U.S. foreign policy. IVAWA passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2010 but failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Capturing the Count: A Round Up of Global Voices on 7 Billion

In the weeks leading up to the 7 billion milestone, we’ve seen the global population issue captured in so many ways across the multimedia landscape—through videos, web sites, photo essays, social media, and of course, the good old op-ed. Below is a collection of some of the most interesting “7 billion” projects that reflect the diversity, not only of these views, but of our growing world.

7 billion … in pictures:

  • In a colorful two-and-half-minute video, NPR tells the story of how we got “so big, so fast.”
7 billion … in soundbytes:
  • A podcast featuring Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, on family planning and the 7 billion milestone (published by the UK’s Department for International Development).
  • An NPR segment about the most densely populated place in India.
7 billion … on the web:
  • The National Geographic magazine is culminating a special year-long series on population, including an article, photo gallery, video, and game.
  • What’s your number? Population Action International and the BBC have launched online campaigns showing you where you fit among the world’s 7 billion, using just your birthday.
  • USAID Global Health’s “World at 7 Billion” project demonstrates how a single person in a world of 7 billion can make a difference in his or her community. (Features a story on our very own Esther Nyokabi of Kenya!)
  • UNFPA’s 7 Billion Actions campaign shares stories and films on how individuals and organizations around the world are bringing about positive change.
7 billion … in social media:
  • Check out the conversation on #7billion in Twittersphere as well as EngenderHealth’s #CountTo7B project on key population factoids and statistics.
7 billion … in writing:
  • In an Oct. 21 essay on, Jeffrey Sachs says technology and stabilization of the population are the answers to this question: How can we enjoy “sustainable development” on a very crowded planet?
  • Helen Epstein discusses the role of religion in contraceptive use for Ghanaian communities in her Oct. 22 New York Times article, Talking Their Way Out of a Population Crisis.
  • On Oct. 24, the Guardian UK underscores the role of education in increasing opportunities for women and girls and, ultimately, slowing population growth in places like Tanzania.
  • Bloomberg offered its own round up of the voices on 7 billion in an Oct. 31 article.