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Commentary & Opinion
XVI International AIDS Conference Should Focus on Integration of HIV/AIDS Programs, Public Health Programs, Opinion Piece Says

August 11, 2006

If the XVI International AIDS Conference is to be "recalled as a turning point of grand historic import," it should focus on how to integrate HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs into public health programs and should not be "dominated by discussion of exclusive AIDS care and treatment," Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a Toronto Star opinion piece. According to Garrett, there must be a "major, front-loaded fiscal commitment to radical improvement in the health systems of poor countries" to ensure that those countries can benefit from "targeted, disease-specific programs," including the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. The world is facing a "global deficit of 4.3 million health care workers," and many developing countries lack the skilled workers or health infrastructure to "cope with the diseases that already burden them, let alone effectively contain HIV or a new virus," Garrett writes. In addition, HIV programs in many countries receive more funding than other health issues, "creating a fiscal magnet that sucks skilled personnel away from all other health sectors," according to Garrett. The international community, "using worldwide concern about AIDS to drive money and talent toward radically improving all aspects of health," might be able to create "global-scale systems of health" and "close the nearly 50-year life expectancy gap between the longest-lived wealthy societies and their desperately poor counterparts," Garrett writes, concluding, "The window of opportunity for using billions of dollars from the wealthy world to save the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the poor world is finite. It must not be squandered" (Garrett, Toronto Star, 8/10).

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