prevention

Yesterday the results of HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052, a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes for Health, offered definitive proof of what we have long suspected---that treating HIV infected persons substantially reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to uninfected persons.

This is FANTASTIC news and offers very convincing evidence that, at least for heterosexual discordant couples (the study was not able to enroll significant numbers of gay men), if the infected person is on ART, the uninfected partner is protected. And more broadly, it offers significant evidence that treatment is indeed highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV. This can reasonably be described as a “game changer” with respect to how we think about HIV prevention, care, and treatment. We used to talk about “treatment as prevention,” but now we can say “treatment IS prevention.”

Read the UNAIDS report here.

As Haitians continue to struggle against many obstacles in improving and developing their country, cholera and sanitation remain challenges to many development efforts.

Since the cholera epidemic started in October, there have been a total of 252,640 confirmed cases. MSH integrated its response, where appropriate, with the national response that was coordinated by the Ministry of Health. Following the earthquake, MSH’s USAID-funded Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haíïti (SDSH) Project found that provision of basic health care through mobile kiosks in the settlement camp tents were an effective way to provide services and messages. Educational messages and oral rehydration solution (ORS) therapy are now being delivered via these kiosks. In addition, SDSH distributed cots, buckets, bleach, bottled water, and ORS to combat the disease.

Every day people are dying in the developing world because they cannot access affordable, quality medicines. Modern pharmaceuticals have revolutionized health care, but weak health systems prevent many people from accessing basic life-saving medicines. The health of men, women, and children can be dramatically improved throughout the world by enhancing access to and improving the use of essential medicines and other health care technologies.

Gaps in the management and availability of essential medicines and health commodities have been a constant weakness for developing countries. These gaps hamper the ability to access and distribute the pharmaceutical and medical supplies needed to treat infectious diseases. We have seen particular success in addressing pharmaceutical management challenges when interventions include: increasing access to products and services, improving the use of those products and services, promoting rational pharmaceutical use, developing public-private partnerships, providing thorough assessments and trainings, and improving procurement processes.

Female community health worker teaching mothers to improve hygiene and preventing diarrhea in their homes through regular hand washing.

Many children in Afghanistan die each year of easily preventable diseases; nearly 25% of those deaths are due to diarrhea. However, it is not only the fatal cases of severe diarrhea that are imperative to address. Between a quarter and a half of mothers of children less than five years old report their child had diarrhea in the two weeks prior to questioning. These frequent cases of diarrhea are among the main causes of under nutrition, which delays development and is implicated in over half of all childhood deaths.

One of the most effective ways of preventing diarrhea is to improve hygiene in the home, especially through regular hand washing with soap before preparing and eating food, after using the toilet or handling a child’s feces.

Annie Likhutu, shown right, receiving volunteer HIV counseling and testing services from Word Alive’s HTC volunteer, Charles Sapala.

Three months ago, Annie Likhutu, a mother of six, came to Migowi Health Center in Phalombe, Malawi to receive voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT); now, she is back at the health center and ready to be tested for a second time.“It is very important to know your status, it is no good waiting until you get sick,” she said.

Annie initially learned of the importance of testing through a radio advertisement from Word Alive Ministries International (WAMI), which is aired regularly and encourages listeners to go to health centers for VCT.

Although Annie takes pride in knowing her status and encourages others in her village to do so, her husband refuses to go for testing. This motivates Annie to continue returning to confirm her negative status.

On this World AIDS Day, we reflect yet again on progress made toward global commitments to fight the HIV epidemic. According to UNAIDS, new infections have decreased this past year from 2.7 million to 2.6 million, but, 30 years into the epidemic, only 5.2 million people out of the estimated 15 million who need drugs have access to treatment. Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against persons living with HIV still exist, even in countries with generalized epidemics.

Integrated HIV programming across the entire health system can minimize many of these barriers to HIV prevention, care and, treatment.

Over 33 million people are currently living with HIV & AIDS throughout the world. Despite great strides in slowing the epidemic, there remains a stunning gap in prevention, care, and treatment efforts. This is especially true for most-at-risk-populations, which include commercial sex workers (CSWs) and their clients, injecting drug users (IDUs), men who have sex with men (MSM), and prisoners. People in these risk groups are so stigmatized and discriminated against in many countries that it becomes extremely difficult – sometimes impossible – to provide them with much-needed HIV prevention, care and treatment services. Even more, MARP behaviors often are illegal, which then compromises needed action and support from government authorities.

Denial of such basic human rights as access to prevention, care, and treatment for the most-at-risk-populations is unacceptable. It leaves those most in need underserved and severely marginalized. As World AIDS Day 2010 approaches with this year’s message of “Universal access and human rights,” I am reflecting on the specialized HIV interventions that MSH helps provide to most-at-risk populations.

The results from the first Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) clinical trial, the iPrEx Study, were just made public and published in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. In short, the trial showed an overall 44% efficacy in preventing HIV infection in gay, bisexual and transgender subjects who took the daily fixed dose combination antiretroviral pill Truvada (tenofovir [TDF] and emtracitabine [FTC]), compared with participants receiving a placebo. This is the first evidence that oral antiretroviral medications, taken by HIV-negative people before exposure to HIV can reduce the risk of HIV infection. iPrEx is also the first trial showing effectiveness of a new biomedical prevention tool in gay men and other men who have sex with men.

The iPrEx trial enrolled 2,499 participants across 11 sites in six countries---Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. It is the first PrEP effectiveness trial to report results. This trial was one of a suite of PrEP trials currently ongoing in a range of populations around the world.

A team of experts from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and World Bank recently published a report on maternal mortality entitled “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008" (PDF).

The document reports some fantastic news about a public health indicator that has until recently refused to budge. That indicator is the maternal mortality ratio, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The improvement between 1990 and 2008 is significant and promising.

The part of the report that received much less coverage relates to HIV and its strong, adverse effect on maternal mortality. The authors estimate that in 2008 there were 42,000 deaths due to HIV & AIDS among pregnant women and approximately half of those were maternal deaths. In absence of HIV we would have had 337,000 maternal deaths in 2008 instead of 358,000.

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