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UN: Health Report Concentrates On AIDS

The plea from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for a new global anti-HIV/AIDS campaign headlines this edition of the RFE/RL Health Report. In addition, Correspondent K.P. Foley reports on the continuing concern over the link between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. There are also stories on new treatments for breast cancer on the horizon, and a move by European parliamentarians to coordinate a continent-wide health policy.


Annan Calls For 'War Chest' To Fund Fight Against HIV/AIDS United Nations

Washington, 27 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling on UN members to wage a "major new global campaign," against HIV/AIDS.

HIV is the acronym for Human Immune Deficiency Virus. It is the infection that causes the fatal condition known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- AIDS.

In a speech Thursday (26 April) to African leaders in Kenya, Annan said the international community needs $7 billion to $10 billion a year, over an extended period, if the fight against HIV/AIDS is to have any chance of success.

Annan urged the most developed nations to be prepared to make firm commitments to this goal by the time of the United Nations Special Session on HIV/AIDS from 25-27 June in New York. One of the goals of the special session is adoption of a political declaration to fight HIV/AIDS.

The secretary-general attended an African summit on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other related infectious diseases. Annan said Africa can no longer be left alone to face the AIDS crisis. According to UN statistics, some 25.3 million Africans are living with HIV, accounting for nearly 70 percent of infected adults and children worldwide.

Annan said he has made the battle against HIV/AIDS his "personal priority." He outlined a five-point action plan for the campaign.

First, he said, further spread of the epidemic must be prevented.

Secondly, Annan called for efforts to reduce the transmission of the HIV virus from mothers to children. He said mother-to-child transmission is "the cruelest, most unjust infection of all."

Third, Annan said that care and treatment must be within reach of all. Annan noted that 95 percent of the world's 36 million HIV-infected people live in developing countries, but fewer than 25,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa currently have access to drug therapy.

The UN leader said scientific breakthroughs must also be a priority. He said finding a cure and vaccine for HIV/AIDS must be given increased priority in scientific budgets.

Finally, he said more must be done to protect those made most vulnerable by the epidemic, especially orphans. He said help must be provided to the estimated 13 million children -- most of them in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost their mother or both parents to AIDS.


Researchers Intensify Focus On HIV-Tuberculosis Link

The World Health Organization says tuberculosis (TB), a disease once thought contained by modern medicine, causes some two million deaths around the world each year. International health authorities are concerned this death toll will spiral out of control because of the link between tuberculosis and the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV), the infection that causes the deadly AIDS disease.

HIV weakens the body's natural disease-fighting immune system. HIV makes an infected person more susceptible to what are called "opportunistic infections," ailments caused by a virus or a bacterium that spread easily from person to person. TB is one such infection. World Health Organization statistics show that TB is actually the main cause of death among people infected with HIV.

About one-third of the world's population carries the TB bacteria, but only 10-15 percent of this group are likely to develop active tuberculosis. However, Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the presence of HIV and TB in an individual heightens the risk that the TB will develop into the debilitating, even deadly, form. He spoke to reporters at a recent U.S. National Institutes of Health forum.

"Because individuals who have tuberculosis and HIV have a much greater chance of having activation of their tuberculosis. And, TB itself can increase the replication of HIV because of its activation of the immune system."

Christine Sizemore, a researcher at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says the problem is compounded by the widespread development of "multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis."

"The development of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is mainly a cause of people not completing their antibiotic therapy. That is the same for other bacterial infections, although with TB -- since it takes about six to nine months for the treatment course to be completed -- people usually feel better [after] about two or three weeks, and they stop taking the antibiotics."

Fauci said that because of the scope of the TB and HIV/AIDS epidemics, doctors around the world are working together to develop a comprehensive TB research agenda.

"The comprehensive program relates to several areas. The first is better diagnostics in order to rapidly diagnose not only the microbe itself, but whether it's drug-resistant or not. The next is to develop new targets for therapy -- because, when you have microbes that are drug-resistant, you have to have alternative therapies. And, most importantly, is the strategic plan that we're a part of with other agencies."

Sizemore said there is some new research underway that may reveal new targets for diagnostics, treatments or even vaccines.


WHO Sets TB Projects For Moldova, Tajikistan

In a related story, the World Health Organization reports that test projects of the new Global TB Drug Facility (GDF) have been approved for Moldova and Tajikistan.

UN members approved establishment of the GDF earlier this year. The key functions of the GDF will be to finance the purchase and provision of grants of quality TB drugs to countries and organizations that conclude agreements with the GDF. The GDF will ensure monitoring, evaluation and problem solving to achieve effective drug delivery, increased coverage, and treatment results. An independent review process of the program results and progress will evaluate and determine continued supply of drugs.


Researchers See New Tests, Treatments For Breast Cancer On Horizon Experts say breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women. Specialists note that the incidence -- a term referring to the number of new cases in a time period -- of breast cancer has been rising for the past two decades.

However, experts also note that -- in the United States at least -- deaths from breast cancer have remained relatively stable for the past five decades. Specialists attribute much of the rise in the number of new cases to increased screening by physical examination and mammography.

Now, researchers are working on tests that may predict a woman's breast cancer risk, as well as detect the earliest signs of abnormal breast cells.

According to the Reuters Health News Service, cancer specialists are working on developing tests based on genetic histories of healthy women who come from families with a history of breast cancer.

Reuters also reports that another tool for detecting early hints of breast cancer is being developed by doctors at the renowned Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. state of Ohio. The experts are working on a prototype scope that will allow them to visualize the interior of milk ducts in the breast. This is important because most breast cancers originate in the lining of the milk ducts.

Researchers say this duct scope may also be used to guide surgeons in the removal of cancerous cells.


EU Parliament Seeks Greater Role In Health Policy For EU

The European Parliament's news service reports that the Parliament voted earlier this month for a renewed attempt to extend the European Union's influence over health policy in the 15 EU member-states.

The Parliament aims to establish a European Health Coordination and Monitoring Center (HCMC). The new body would collate health data across the EU, monitor epidemiological trends, and identify and tackle health inequalities. The Strasbourg assembly's suggestion revives an idea that has been previously rejected by the member states.

The EU has a program to fund disease surveillance and control efforts. However, some members view central monitoring of health-care policy as an intrusion into national affairs. Still, the EU has powers to coordinate public health policy. The European Commission proposes that eight programs under which member states currently collaborate on problems such as cancer, AIDS, and drug abuse should be replaced with a single, EU-wide, public health program. The program would cost $267 million, enough to fund it for four more years.