Remembering Winstone Zulu, disability rights dealt a blow, World AIDS Day writings, and more

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Remembering Zambian Activist Winstone Zulu: This post from ACTION of the speech given at the unveiling of Winstone Zulu’s tombstone last week, is a timely reminder of the work the Zambian AIDS activist devoted more than half of his life to. Diagnosed with HIV in his twenties, Zulu is credited with being the first in his country to widely disclose his illness, going on television and speaking before groups to dispel ignorance and stigma surrounding HIV. He became a powerful advocate as well for international funding for antiretroviral treatment, long before treatment was widely available in his country. After watching all four of his brothers die of HIV-related tuberculosis, and fighting the disease himself, he traveled the world to alert donors of the need to pay attention to TB/HIV coinfection. Zulu, who had lost the use of his legs after a childhood bout with polio, faced additional challenges in all of this, including barriers to health facilities. Finally, near the end of his life, he took up the causes of human rights and HIV, saying the epidemic would never be effectively addressed until discriminatory laws and neglect of people with disabilities, men who have sex with men, prisoners and sex workers were addressed. Four months before he died, his Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, I had Polio. I also have sex drew attention to the obstacles he and others like him faced getting preventive services and care. The PEPFAR Blueprint released last week reflects attention to many of the issues Zulu worked hardest to draw attention to and said he hoped to live to see addressed. He succumbed to AIDS-related illnesses at 47, feeling, a friend said, frustrated that he had not finished his race.

Senate rejects treaty to protect disabled: On the same day the ACTION post appeared, the United States Senate refused, by a vote of 61 to 38 to sign on to an international treaty barring discriminatory practices against disabled people. The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, a 2006 treaty, was designed to encourage nations to provide protections of disabled people similar to those already provided under United States law. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which recognized HIV infection as a disability, prohibited discrimination against disabled people in employment and access to public services and accommodations. “In some countries, disabled children do not get to go to school and certainly have no prospect of a future, simply because they were born with a disability,” Sen. John Kerry said, arguing for ratification. “This treaty can help offer hope where there is none.” Strengthening the treaty also would have helped U.S. international AIDS funding to get more for dollars spent by confronting structural barriers to health and education that policy makers have agreed must be addressed to bring the HIV epidemic to a tipping point.

AIDS progress at risk: In a political environment that could see a treaty supporting rights of disabled people rejected, the concern voiced by the authors of this pre-World AIDS Day Op-Ed piece in the Baltimore Sun is understandable. The progress in science and policy aimed at preventing further AIDS infections and saving lives has been strong, but without funding will be meaningless, the authors say. “Our window of opportunity is closing rapidly, threatened by drastic cuts in federal funding scheduled to take effect in January,” they write. “Without a strong U.S. commitment to fund continued research and provide the resources needed to deliver lifesaving HIV care, services, and treatment globally and here at home, more lives will be lost, harming communities and public health.”
What makes this World AIDS Day different from all others?: This Oxford University Press blog post by Boston clinician and researcher Kenneth Mayer, MD, sizes up the progress made, and the gaps yet to be addressed in action — including those still in need of lifesaving treatment and failures to reach major populations of heightened risk. This post comes with links to a series of recent articles, selected by Mayer and physician Dan Kuritzkes, and made available free for a limited time from The Journal of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Infectious Diseases.


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