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Why AIDS remains a huge global problem

Some 1.1 mil­lion people in the U.S. are cur­rently living with HIV, according to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, but only 25 per­cent receive ongoing med­ical care to keep the virus under control.

“We should be embar­rassed by that viral sup­pres­sion rate,” said Jean Flatley McGuire, a pro­fessor of the prac­tice in the Depart­ment of Health Sci­ences and the former director of the Mass­a­chu­setts HIV/​AIDS Bureau. “To stymie the epi­demic in this country, we must make sure people know their status.”

McGuire dis­cussed the HIV/​AIDS epi­demic on Monday after­noon in the Cabral Center as part of a cel­e­bra­tion of World AIDS Day, which is held annu­ally on Dec. 1. She was joined by a panel of North­eastern fac­ulty mem­bers in addi­tion to del­e­gates in the U.S. Depart­ment of State Inter­na­tional Vis­itor Lead­er­ship Pro­gram, who have been tasked with pro­moting inter­na­tional coop­er­a­tion in the fight against the spread of HIV/​AIDS.

The two-​​hour event was co-​​sponsored by World Boston as well as the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, and the Center for Inter­na­tional Affairs and World Cultures.

Richard Wamai, an assis­tant pro­fessor of public health in the Depart­ment of African Amer­ican Studies and an expert in HIV/​AIDS research and policy, opened the dis­cus­sion by noting the key dri­vers of America’s AIDS epi­demic, which has killed more than 630,000 people. Some fac­tors, he said, namely poverty and lack of condom use, mirror those found in Sub-​​Saharan Africa, where some 25 mil­lion people are cur­rently living with the disease.

Wamai later noted that black youth rep­re­sent half of all new HIV infec­tions among people aged 13 to 29. “This new epi­demic among African Amer­i­cans in the U.S. is being for­gotten,” he said, “and we need to bring it back into the polit­ical discussion.”

From there, the con­ver­sa­tion shifted to the chal­lenges in the inter­na­tional fight against HIV/​AIDS. The ILVP del­e­gates, who rep­re­sented coun­tries as far flung as Armenia and Nigeria, cited a dearth of funding and a lack of com­mu­nity lead­er­ship as two of the biggest obstacles.

“Funding is a chal­lenge for all coun­tries in Eastern Europe,” said Mom­chil Kostov Baev, the health pro­grams coor­di­nator at Center for Interethnic Dia­logue and Tol­er­ance, an NGO in Bul­garia. “I spoke to Bulgaria’s Min­ister of Health, and he doesn’t know how to fill the huge resource gap,” he added. “Unfor­tu­nately the money in the state budget is not enough.”

Of com­mu­nity lead­er­ship, he said, “Sev­eral NGOs in Bul­garia work with HIV pos­i­tive patients, but they are small and weak and in great need of capacity building.”

In the Q-​​and-​​A ses­sion, Denise Horn, an assis­tant pro­fessor of inter­na­tional affairs and an expert in transna­tional activism, asked the pan­elists to dis­cuss the effi­cacy of take-​​home HIV tests.

“Tech­nology has improved,” said Brook Baker, a pro­fessor of law who is actively involved in cam­paigns for uni­versal access to treat­ment, pre­ven­tion, and care for people living with HIV/ ​AIDS. “If you’re testing for the third or fourth time, why go back to the doctor’s office? As long as you know what to do if the test is pos­i­tive, why have that incon­ve­nience and extra cost?”

– By Jason Kornwitz

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