It will soon (on 5 June) be the birthday of HIV and AIDS. It is now 30 years since they arrived on the health horizon to change our world forever. The birthday will be celebrated on 8 June at a High Level Meeting of the United Nations’ General Assembly, (40 heads of state and government will attend), to discuss progress in fighting the pandemic and wrestle with the question of what to do next. However, there have been much reflective, sometimes celebratory but always cautious analyses of the story and progress made so far: while The Economist is guardedly optimistic, UNAIDS presents a rather sober view saying “we cannot break the arc of this epidemic – where five people were newly infected for every three starting treatment in 2010 – if we adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach,” especially in the face of stagnating funds. But for the Vatican it remains business as usual. The Vatican’s International Conference on AIDs this week failed to build on last year’s comment by Pope Benedict XVI that approved of condom use as a lesser evil where there was a risk of HIV contagion, but rather restates that same old condom’s no good position.
Not letting the celebratory mood die off so quickly with the Vatican’s recalcitrance, Nigeria is in the headline of The Lancet, with a development worth celebrating. The National Health Bill was finally passed following a lot of pressure from civil societies and women threatening to go naked in front of the parliament house. The bill pledges to develop a national health policy that includes US$380 million devoted to primary health care each year, commitments to the provision of essential drugs, and comprehensive vaccination programmes for pregnant women and children under 5 years. The bill also provides a framework for the provision of national health services, defines the rights of patients and clients and outlines strategies to reduce health workforce brain drain. There has never been this much momentum for real commitment to improving health in Nigeria; Nigerians will at the very last be able to hold the government to account for their right to health.
Now the mood flies out of the window when we remember that the G8 confirmed our worst fears that they had left out global health from the agenda of the Deauville meeting. The only redeeming feature were David Cameron of the UK (his impassioned defence of aid spending and his pledge to raise a “substantial” part of $3.7billion in global aid to increase immunisation programmes) and Stephen Harper of Canada (his hope, albeit unrealised or unrealistic, of squeezing promised but undelivered maternal-health aid funds out of the G8 leaders). Issues like HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health were off the table apart from Mrs. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s luncheon for G8 spouses which received scant media attention. The global health community needs to find ways of getting these issues on the agenda of the G20 meeting in November which is also hosted by France.
Finally, before the party (or weekend) begins, PLoS Medicine Editors remind us that we much too often leave “Big Booze” (or Big Alcohol) out of the discussion of corporate conflicts of interest, inappropriate marketing to children, impotent self-regulation, and general flouting of the rules while we continue to deservedly harp on of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. For them we must also” target more attention to and research on the alcohol industry that can support and fuel legislative, regulatory, and community action to protect the public health.”