From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.
Award-winning actress and PSI Ambassador Debra Messing is in Washington this week at the AIDS 2012 Conference to advocate for the need to take a combined approach to HIV prevention. The convention is at the Washington Convention Center.
Messing calls for new partnerships and coordination to tackle global HIV/AIDS crisis.
Messing recently returned from a trip to trip to Zambia with PSI, a global health organization, and Alere, the world’s largest manufacturer of HIV testing technology. While in Zambia, she met beneficiaries of US-funded HIV/AIDS programs who avoided a positive diagnosis or are learning to live positively with HIV because they have access to a wide range of effective HIV prevention methods and support services.
While the overall number of new infections is decreasing and access to treatment is increasing, there are still two new HIV infections for every one HIV-infected person placed on treatment. In DC alone, approximately 3 percent of the city’s residents are infected with the virus — a rate higher than many African nations.
“There’s still no single HIV intervention that offers complete protection — the power is in combination,” said Messing. “I’m in Washington at the AIDS 2012 conference and on Capitol Hill to tell the stories of people I met in Zambia who are leading healthier lives because they have access to a method of HIV prevention that fits their lifestyle.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Messing co-hosted a discussion with USAID, UNAIDS, PSI, Alere, and Chief Mumena of the Kaonde people in Zambia to highlight the need for collaboration across sectors to offer a comprehensive HIV prevention package.
Such an approach includes male and female condoms, counseling and testing, anti stigma and discrimination programs, use of anti-retrovirals, and voluntary male circumcision, which can reduce female-to-male HIV transmission by as much as 60%.
The following evening, Messing co-presented the 2012 Impact Awards with HRH Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway at a reception hosted by PSI, UNAIDS, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Sponsored by PSI Impact Magazine, the awards honor men and women who have made a lasting impact in HIV/AIDS.
Seven individuals received the 2012 awards: HIV researcher Dr. Bertran Auvert, Ron Zwanziger, CEO of Alere, global health journalist John Donnelly, Zimbabwe Parliamentarian Blessing Chebundo, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), and Congresswoman and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
This year marks the first time the United States has hosted the AIDS Conference since 1990, following President Obama’s lifting of a ban that prevented HIV positive persons from entering the country. The conference has accentuated the progress made by the global community during the past three decades. Global health experts believe that a combination strategy is now moving the world closer to realizing an AIDS-free generation. The rate of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths are at the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic in 2001, and the number of people living with HIV decreased by more than 25 percent between 2001 and 2009 in 33 countries around the world.
However, while the overall number of new infections is decreasing and access to treatment is increasing, there are still two new HIV infections for every one HIV-infected person placed on treatment. In DC alone, approximately 3 percent of the city’s residents are infected with the virus – a rate higher than many African nations. The trajectory of the response to HIV/AIDS, both domestically and abroad, will depend heavily on the global community’s ability to prevent new infections.
“HIV prevention is an essential component to an effective response,” said Dr. Krishna Jafa, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health & TB at PSI. “Unless we reduce the number of new HIV infections, we will not have a meaningful impact on reducing the burden of disease caused by HIV.”