Rambam, the great Jewish thinker, teaches us “to visit the non-Jewish sick and to bury the non-Jewish dead along with the Jewish dead, and support the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor for the sake of peace. As it says, “G-d is good to all and G-d’s mercies extend over all G-d’s works” (Psalms 145:9).
When I look at the Torah portion for this week I see a story that holds deep reminders for us today. It is the story of Jacob and how he wrestled with something otherworldly in his journey. Perhaps it is an angel, perhaps it is a powerful “man,” perhaps allegorically it is Jacob’s own past. Despite injury, uncertainty and potentially being outmatched, he is resolved to obtain God’s blessing. It is a story of undaunted faith. This reading is particularly poignant as we recognize World AIDS day this Saturday, December 1st.
The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is currently on display on the National Mall. It is comprised of over 48,000 panels, each about the size of a grave, representing over 94,000 people—which is about 20% of the people who have died from AIDS-related complications in the United States. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has plagued the United States since the early 1980s, and it has flourished in part because it touches on everything Americans hate talking about: sex (especially gay sex), drugs and poverty. In many senses, it is a not only a memorial to those who have died, but also a reminder of all that we failed to do – and of what we can still do. Read more…
Two new items are under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could reduce the number of HIV infections:
- Last week, a panel of experts recommended that the FDA approve a pill known as Truvada that could be taken preemptively by healthy but at-risk individuals to prevent the contraction of HIV. The pill is already approved for the treatment of HIV, and the FDA’s final decision about whether to approve it for prevention is expected next month.
- The other advancement awaiting formal approval by the FDA is an over-the-counter HIV test kit, which allows consumers to perform oral HIV tests in the privacy of their homes. The test, which detects antibodies to the virus in saliva, returns results in about 20 minutes. On Tuesday, a 17-member advisory panel unanimously recommended that the FDA approve this kit for over-the-counter-use. While the agency declined to comment on when it will release its final decision, executives for the manufacturer expect a decision sometime this summer.
30 years ago, the world was very different. Ronald Reagan was president, the final episode of M.A.S.H. aired, and though unknown at the time, the HIV/AIDS virus was discovered. For thirty years now, the world has been fighting an epidemic that has left a deep scar on so many lives. So many individuals have suffered at the hands of this awful disease.
Yet, there is hope. Some significant breakthroughs in the past few years provide reason for optimism. The most recent happened but a few weeks ago. A new study “unequivocally link[s] early antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-infected persons with a 96.3% less chance of transmitting the virus to an uninfected partner, as well as a decreased risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB), the number one killer of people living with HIV/AIDS.” In simpler terms, if both partners take the antiretroviral drugs, then there is a 96.3% chance the disease will not spread. Similarly, a new gel for woman could reduce the transmission as well. Lastly, through gene therapy, a man in Berlin, who had cancer and AIDS was cured of both cancer and HIV/AIDS. There is still a lot of mystery around this case and a lot more research must be done, but none the less it could lead to a breakthrough.
Working at the RAC, I get the privilege of meeting and working with a number of fascinating organizations. Due to my international focus, many of them are also international development organizations, like the American Jewish World Service and Church World Service. I commend these organizations for the excellent work they do on the ground around the world. I am also always particularly interested in hearing what Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has to say
Dr. Shah came into office with the hope of making USAID more efficient and effective. Yesterday, Dr. Shah outlined in a major speech a number of plans he has to create a newer and better USAID. The main point he discussed was to change USAID into a modern development enterprise, noting, “We have an obligation to perform at even higher level. That is why we are seeking to build something greater: a modern development enterprise. Like an enterprise, we are developing and executing more innovative and more focused strategies across each of our areas of excellence.” He has promised more oversight of major projects, more local projects in favor of large contractors, and a move of resources from countries that do not need such high levels, if any level, of support.
Numerous news reports have declared what seemed impossible: A Berlin man, the so-called “Berlin Patient,” appears to have been cured of HIV through an adult stem cell transplant intended to treat his leukemia.
Timothy Ray Brown, 42, has remained HIV-free since he received a blood stem cell transplant in 2007 as part of a lengthy treatment course for leukemia. Blood stem cell transplants are common in treating leukemia patients, but doctors in Brown’s case deliberately chose a stem cell donor with a naturally occurring, but rare, genetic mutation that prevents the most common form of HIV from infecting T CD4 immune cells. After the transplant, Brown’s body showed no sign of the virus and he was able to stop taking HIV antiretroviral drugs.
Dr. Paul Zeitz is the executive director of the Global Peace Action Network (GPAN) and the Global AIDS Alliance (GAA), which he co-founded in January 2001. In that role, he has taken the lead on GAA’s advocacy across a range of issues, including ending pediatric HIV/AIDS, advancing children’s well‐being, integration of HIV and reproductive health services, universal basic education, global AIDS funding, and the links between HIV/AIDS and the broader Millennium Development Goals. Paul is a Professorial Lecturer of Global Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, and has previously worked for WHO, USAID, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Introducing an Era of Justice:
How to Take back America and Usher in a New Political Age
as delivered for a Keynote Address at
The George Washington University
upon receiving the 2010 Global Health and Development Achievement Award on December 9th, 2010