For Immediate Release
(Los Angeles) Earlier this year, the US approved $48 billion for global AIDS. A few weeks later, the Centers for Disease Control revealed that HIV is spreading in the United States far faster than was previously thought.
Today at UCLA, experts held a town meeting sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), UCLA Program in Global Health, and AIDS Project Los Angeles to discuss the current state of efforts to combat the AIDS pandemic both internationally and here in the United States.
Speakers included US Representative Howard Berman (D-CA); Craig Thompson, the Executive Director of AIDS Project Los Angeles; and the Honorable Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, a Ugandan medical doctor, Parliamentarian, and outspoken AIDS advocate who is accompanying PHR on a barnstorming tour of California.
Rep. Berman was in Africa this summer to observe how PEPFAR is being implemented on the ground. He described the successes of the reauthorized bill, which triples the allocation for the U.S. response to HIV, TB and malaria, and expands its reach beyond initial 15 focus countries. "Now, we need to integrate HIV into broader health concerns such as food security, nutrition and vaccine research," Rep. Berman said, adding: "We also have a lot of work to do to protect women and girls."
Gail Wyatt, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and an associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute, noted that methods to address AIDS in the U.S., which were largely developed toward the beginning of the epidemic, have been geared primarily toward white gay males. Still needed are policies and programs geared toward other ethnic and cultural groups that are otherwise not being reached. "That's the challenge we have in America," she said. "For a developed country we are behind the ball, and the ball is still rolling."
Said Dr. Tumwesigye, "There are 2.1 million people dying of AIDS every year. If instead of AIDS those people were on planes that were falling from the sky, it would be more than 5,000 planes. The UN Security Council would call an emergency meeting. The world would stop—and everyone would try to solve this problem. Instead, it's business as usual."
The meeting was unusual because it addressed both global AIDS and the US epidemic at the same time. PHR's CEO Frank Donague commented, "People deserve the right to health whether they live in Soweto or South L.A. The US must live up to its commitment to fight AIDS worldwide; we must fully fund the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. But we also need a national AIDS strategy to address the epidemic raging right here in our backyard."
PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) was reauthorized in July, 2008 –at $48 billion–for US efforts to combat AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria abroad. The expanded program (known as PEPFAR 2) now includes Latin American countries; PEPFAR 1 had focused mainly on Africa.
According to UNAIDS, 75% of young adults with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women and girls, who are especially vulnerable to HIV infection because of their low social status. PEPFAR 2 supports the implementation of programs that enhance the status of women, potentially giving them more power in social relationships, and thus helping them avoid HIV infection.
If fully funded, PEPFAR 2 also promises to prevent 12 million HIV infections and treat three million people over five years. The reauthorized program made several key changes from PEPFAR 1, including a focus on women and AIDS—though much more must be done to protect the human rights of women.
In August, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that new HIV infections in the US have escalated from 40,000 annually to 56,300–with numbers in the African-American, Hispanic and gay communities skyrocketing. People of color are disproportionately affected, with rates per 100,000 persons of 83.7 among Blacks and 29.3 among Hispanics, compared with 11.5 among whites, while 53 percent of total infections are attributed to men who have sex with men (MSM). Advocates are calling on the next president to develop what the US asks of other nations it supports in combating AIDS: a national strategy to achieve improved and more equitable results.
Advocates are calling for a National AIDS Strategy to address the problem.
"In the US, the debate about where to direct scarce resources must cease, and a commitment to adequately fund all aspects of combating HIV/AIDS in impacted communities must follow," said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson.
- Congressman Howard Berman (D-California), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
- Gail Wyatt, associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, Semel Institute at UCLA.
- Thomas Coates, associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute , director of the UCLA Program in Global Health and advisor to PHR's Health AIDS Action campaign.
- Craig E. Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.
PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: To follow PHR's trip, visit PHRinCalifornia.Org
For 20 years, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), based in Boston, MA, has advanced health and dignity by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
UCLA PROGRAM IN GLOBAL HEALTH
The UCLA Program in Global Health partners with academic institutions in developing countries to advance prevention, policy, and clinical research for HIV/AIDS and other diseases in all regions of the world. The program works with its partners in developing countries to integrate treatment and prevention of HIV, implement innovative prevention programs, stimulate the implementation of beneficial policies and laws, address gender inequity, and train the next generation of scientists in the United States and both scientists and advocates in developing countries to continue this essential work.
AIDS PROJECT LOS ANGELES
AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), one of the largest non-profit AIDS service organizations in the United States, provides bilingual direct services, prevention education and leadership on HIV/AIDS-related policy and legislation. Marking 25 years of service in 2008, APLA is a community-based, volunteer-supported organization with local, national and global reach. For more information, visit www.apla.org.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.