In global health news this week, I have updates to previously covered topics. World leaders have committed money and support to family planning, spearheaded by the Gates Foundation. The CIA’s fake vaccination program, part of efforts to ferret out Osama Bin Laden, has contributed to a ban on polio vaccinations by the Taliban controlling the Waziristan region of northern Pakistan. Finally, the FDA officially approves an antiretroviral drug for prevention of HIV among people at high risk for infection.
Global Leaders Commit to Family Planning: Last week at the London Family Planning Summit, a group of governments, NGOs, foundations, multilaterals, the private sector, and the other usual suspects committed to funding and supporting a family planning initiative to reach 120 million women and girls by 2020. They’ve pledged about $2.6 billion so far for a program that is projected to cost $4.3 billion. Not a bad start, especially with the weight of the Gates Foundation and its $1 billion commitment for family planning. Earlier this year, Gates declared her intention to spend the next 30 years focusing on family planning. A re-focusing of resources and expertise towards encouraging contraception, preventing unwanted pregnancies, and giving women the right to determine how many children they have will be key to improved global health, sustainability and development.
CIA Fake Vaccination Program’s Lasting Effects: Last year, I wrote about the potentially damaging effects of a C.I.A. espionage program that used fake vaccination drives to look for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. As AFP reports, the Taliban in northern Pakistan have banned polio vaccination programs in Waziristan, citing anger at U.S. drone attacks and the revelation about the C.I.A. ploy following the U.S. killing of Bin Laden. As the New York Times points out, it is “paradoxically” polio vaccinators that are banned–even though the fake program was administering Hepatitis B shots–because of long-standing regional conspiracy theories that polio vaccines were not halal or were used to infect children with HIV. However, the Times depicts a somewhat sanguine view: Waziristan is rural and more sparsely populated, without the urban concentration that exacerbates polio transmission. All the same, on the edge of the global eradication of polio, this is a frustrating turn of events.
FDA Formally Approves Truvada: It seems that the U.S. government is getting serious about HIV/AIDS prevention. After giving the nod to an at-home HIV test this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now officially approved Truvada, an antiretroviral drug, for the prevention of HIV. In May, a panel endorsed this use of Truvada (which some doctors were already prescribing off-label for prevention) for people at high risk of HIV infection as pre-exposure prophylaxis, as I wrote. With hope, these steps could make a real dent in the tenacious U.S. epidemic. Stay tuned for more HIV news after the International AIDS Society Conference in D.C. next week.