Treatment Action Group’s leader Mark Harrington did not mince words Saturday at a consultation meeting on HIV and tuberculosis (TB) co-infection preceding the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington.
Promoting TAG’s collaborative effort calling for “Zero TB Deaths, Zero New Infections, Zero Discrimination and Stigma,” Harrington was an invited panelist asked to discuss progress and success of TB/HIV collaborative activities in the global context. He spoke alongside the likes of Ambassador Eric Goosby of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci, MD. TAG’s zero campaign doesn’t have a timeline attached to it, Harrington said, because, “We want to get to zero as fast as possible.”
“Sorry Eric, the president screwed you this year…” Harrington said, referring to the $550 million cut the president proposed in his fiscal year 2013 budget request to Congress for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program – arguably one of the most successful global health programs ever. The administration justified the cut because of a half-billion-dollar logjam of PEPFAR funding that has accumulated over the nine years since the program started, funding which is currently stuck in-country and that had not yet reached the people who need it.
“Why don’t we use the extra money on expanding treatments, or buying more GeneXpert [MTB-RIF rapid TB diagnostic machines]?,” Harrington asked the audience of scientists, activists, program managers and clinicians. “Perhaps this is the reason [Obama] is too scared to show his face ‘in vivo’ at [the International AIDS] Conference.”
Harrington made the argument that the TB community needs to speak out and be just as vociferous as the AIDS community was and is in order to muster the international political attention needed to successfully combat the disease. Can you imagine the AIDS community sitting by quietly if there were a cure for HIV infection but 1.7 million people continued to die every year from the disease, he posited.
Harrington stressed the need to change the supply chain management structure for TB drugs in order to get more medication to those who need it, and highlighted the urgent need to address stock-outs of isoniazid (used to both treat and prevent TB infection) occurring presently in the United States.