Who Can Claim Life as a Culture?

This Memorial Day we remember 25 million souls lost to 25 years of AIDS. Motivated by the death of the love of my early life in 1996 from AIDS, I started thinking about death politically. Carl died just months before medications the developed world takes for granted became available, and months after the US Navy denied him compassionate access to those meds after a five-year study in which he participated. Months meant the difference in him seeing his two sons grow up and our lives continuing together.

In 1997, I began a journey working with Oregon’s Death with Dignity Law, culminating early this year in the US Supreme Court affirming Oregon’s law 6-3: the federal government had no right to interfere in a doctor or pharmacist’s compassionate decision to alleviate suffering at the request of the patient. Strict safeguards make that once controversial law a model of compromise among medical, legal, political, ethics, policy, mental health, faith, hospice, and most importantly, patient and family communities. Compromise works.

AIDS 2006: The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS)

Five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session on HIV/AIDS.  This was the first time all UN members had convened under the auspices of the General Assembly to address a specific health issue.   In view of the staggering nature of the pandemic, the member states adopted in 2001 a 10-year plan, known as the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS – to guide international effort to stem the spread of the disease and care for those infected by it.   From May 31-June 2, the international community will convene once again to take stock of progress in implementing the action plan, evaluate successful and unsuccessful efforts, and chart a course for the future.  

Treatment Report Takes PEPFAR to Task

A new report comes from the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition as covered in the Washington Post, “UN Releases Report on AIDS Treatment.” The report, Missing the Target: Off Target for 2010 – details how the global community is behind in reaching its goals for treatment distribution and research.

The report cites evidence of progress as well as impediments in various countries, and it takes each major program involved in the fight to task. Specifically, the report states that The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), “has expanded the reach of its treatment delivery and has initiated a variety of activities to build health systems. While continuing these efforts it must, however, end counterproductive policy prescriptions that undermine service delivery and do more to build human resources capacity in countries.”

Women and HIV in Developing Countries: Infection and Inequality Trends Up

In the lead-up to next week’s meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN, a recent AFP article, “Thrown out of home, Nigerian women find solace in sisterhood,” is an apt reminder of the special challenges that so many women face in protecting themselves from infection when they have so little decision-making power in their relationships and in their lives. The article narrates the plight of 70 female divorcees gathered at a vocational training and support class in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, where Shari’ah Islamic law has been in place since 2000, and where girls often have little say in when and whom they marry.

Congress Denies Funding for Fistula, Citing Abortion

Using misinformed arguments and political concerns, the House Appropriations committee rejected an amendment by a vote of 23-30 to direct funds already in the bill to UNFPA’s obstetric fistula prevention and treatment efforts, should the Administration not release the funds for other family planning and women’s empowerment efforts. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick offered this compromise amendment to allow US support to UNFPA for very specific and non-controversial programs, as a constructive response to the Administration blocking the funding for the past four years.

Opponents said that inclusion of this amendment would “make it difficult to pass” the Foreign Operations bill on the floor – so much for meeting the public health needs of some of the world’s poorest women. Others threw their standard complaint into the mix, stating that this (in an extremely circuitous way) somehow supports abortion.

The Rumor Mill: Syria & US Team Up For UN AIDS Meeting

There are growing reports that the United States and a handful of other countries are objecting to certain language (e.g. reference to condoms, sexual and reproductive health – the usual!) in negotiations for a political declaration at next week’s UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS. The U.S. negotiating posture is hardly new…nor are its allies in this fight. It seems that the United States’ main ally at the United Nations this week during negotiations on HIV/AIDS has been Syria – yes, the same country that the Administration has declared to be part of the "Axis of Evil."

Rumor Mill hears that the emerging “Axis of Ideology” includes other fundamentalist representatives, all of which want to ignore the evidence as it relates to the importance of human rights, gender equality, comprehensive sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health services in the fight to stem HIV/AIDS. Apparently, where science is concerned, the axis adheres to a strict, abstinence-only posture.

Pre-Conception Care: Women’s Health as Individuals or Incubators?

Improvements to studies in women’s health have been long overdue and slowly improving. Apparently some of the current policies towards women’s health look past the woman as individual, and see her only as potential incubator. Among them, recently released guidelines from the CDC regarding the status of women and their health care are causing great sparks, particularly in the blogosphere.

According to UPI, the CDC is now recommending that “All women who are able to become pregnant should treat themselves and be treated by healthcare professionals as being pre-pregnant.” This includes preteen girls just beginning menstruation, as well as women who have no plans to become pregnant – ever.

Dr. David Satcher Blasts Bush on HIV: Prevention Taking Backseat to Ideology

Former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher joined a coalition of advocates calling on the Bush Administration to promote prevention of HIV/AIDS over pursuit of personal ideological beliefs that endanger the lives of millions, as reported in the Washington Blade.

Satcher was part of a panel discussing the findings in a new report from the Open Society Institute, HIV/AIDS Policy in the United States, Nicaragua, Senegal, Ukraine, Viet Nam.

Ideologues Blocking Public Health Progress World Wide

Today, Rewire welcomes a new regular staff blogger, Andrea Lynch, who will cover international issues from her vantage point in Brighton, England, and later this summer from Nicaragua. Her first blog post Colombia Leads the Way in Latin America coincides with an editorial on the same topic in today's New York Times that states in Colombia and much of Latin America "unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal mortality. The health dangers are not shared equally, as wealthier women can pay competent doctors, while poor ones must resort to unsafe clinics or, worse, do it themselves."

The abortion issue has been dominant in headlines recently. As the importance of it as a public health and women's rights issue matures in other parts of the world, ideological leaders in the US would roll back the progress being made in reducing abortions by keeping them safe, legal and rare.

But what began as an effort to stop abortion by ideologues has become a full frontal attack on a range of reproductive health, highlighted by an attempt to undermine rigorous science in the process. In a world where nothing can be proven, the world the ideologues seek, then nothing can be certain. Science, when current understanding is proven wrong, celebrates advancement and new understanding. Ideologues confronted with fact, cling to flat-earth beliefs, refusing progress.

Colombia Leads the Way in Latin America

At a time when U.S. lawmakers are continually throwing up new barriers to safe and legal abortion, it’s a comfort to know that at least some countries are waking up to the reality that restricting legal abortion is often more of a death sentence than a deterrent for women. In a landmark decision handed down earlier this month in response to a case brought by Colombian lawyer Monica Roa last year, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled 5-3 to decriminalize abortion in cases where a woman’s life or health is in danger, in cases of rape or incest, or under circumstances where a fetal malformation is incompatible with life outside the womb—leaving Chile, El Salvador, and, uhm, South Dakota, with the most restrictive abortion laws in the Western Hemisphere. Ladies of Sioux Falls, book your ticket to Bogotá today…