Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The Wall Street Journal reports that at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Bill Clinton stressed "we must do more." Marilyn Chase writes,
"AIDS is a big dragon," Mr. Clinton said Monday, but unlike the mythical dragon slain by St. George, "this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers."
Basking in applause, Mr. Clinton recited some of his foundation's accomplishments, such as reducing the price of certain AIDS treatments for poor children to $60 a year from the $600 they cost three years ago.
But he also said much work still remains to counteract the high rates of babies born with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in many parts of the developing world. In the most desperate locales, the rates of mother-to-child transmission are as high as 15 times the rate in countries where pregnant women with HIV receive proper treatment.
The International AIDS Conference, sponsored by the International AIDS Society, drew more than 22,000 researchers, doctors, activists and members of the press to Mexico City for a week of science and strategy sessions on the global pandemic that has killed 25 million people since it began to emerge in 1981.
The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation partners with donors and businesses to promote health and economic development around the world, with a focus on cutting deals with drug makers for deep discounts on treatments to help the 33 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Clinton recounted signs of both hope and dire need in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia and Senegal, where the foundation supports work to fight epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria while building basic health systems.
Improved hospital management in Ethiopia and beefed-up lab capacity in Malawi, he said, were offset by the fact that in some places, nurses wake up at 3 a.m. to do diagnostic tests and "where there is no electricity, they collect blood samples huddled under the headlights of a car."
"A couple days ago in Rwanda, I visited the home of a 15-year-old boy named Jean-Pierre and his 20-year-old sister, Eugenie," Mr. Clinton said. He explained that the AIDS-stricken boy had been cared for by his sister since they were 7 and 12 years old, respectively.
"He was once too sick to go to school," Mr. Clinton said. With treatment, "He's now back in school at 15 -- in the third grade."
The recent revelation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that there are 56,300 new infections a year in the U.S. -- 40% more than the agency previously reported -- "should be a wake-up call," Mr. Clinton said. "We should do more at home, and I intend to do so."
One of the ideas creating buzz at the conference is to reorient the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief -- begun by President George W. Bush -- so that its global purview includes the U.S. Doing so might help to heal gaps in AIDS care and prevention among American minority populations.
Until there is a vaccine, Mr. Clinton said, studies show that suppressing blood levels of HIV with potent antivirals can help block the disease's transmission. The Chair of AIDS Research at the University of British Columbia, Julio Montaner, who is the incoming president of the International AIDS Society that sponsors this conference, is a leading champion of using drugs as preventatives.