Global HIV response has lessons for global child health, panelists say

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When Robert Clay lived in Zambia in the late 1990s, when there was a “raging HIV/AIDS epidemic” in that country, he saw funeral processions go past his house, every single day. HIV/AIDS not only took lives, he said, it also profoundly affected all aspects of society, from education to the government to the economy. It left thousands of orphans in its wake and paralyzed an entire continent.

“Today, it’s a totally different world,” he said. Thanks to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and multilateral programs like the Global Fund, “People are able to live as productive members of society.”

Similar gains have been made in reducing child mortality rates, but much more needs to be done, Clay said at a congressional briefing commemorating World Immunization Week yesterday. If we take what we’ve learned from PEPFAR and apply it to child global health, we’ll see even more gains, he said.

Clay, USAID’s deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Global Health, said if we devote enough resources, by 2035 we can have equality among all countries in terms of child mortality and maternal health. Already we’ve seen maternal mortality fall by 30 percent, and child deaths under age five drop from 17 million to 12 million to the current 6.6 million a year.

6.6 million deaths among children under five is still an unconscionable number, and “we need to accelerate the progress,” Clay said. Millions of children die because of no access to life-saving and inexpensive vaccines. Immunization is the one health intervention that affords all children the same protection no matter their location or socioeconomic background, Clay said.

Lucas Otieno, research officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Walter-Reed Project, agreed with Clay. He said in Kenya, they have a common saying about preventative health, “It’s better to start early than to go to a witch doctor.” Otieno is the principle investigator of the phase III RTS, S malaria vaccine trial, which so far has shown promising results, he said. Final results are expected at the end of the year.

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