Friday, March 13, 2009

HIV Update!

For years and years, working in and out of AIDS agencies, there were two fights that we always thought were left to really be fought. On the one hand, we have the disproportionate amount of money being spent on money for AIDS when other long-term, chronic diseases get left to fend for themselves. The fact that AIDS has a higher mortality rate, more complications, higher cost of treatment over a longer time, etc. etc. never entered into the debate.

The other was the drastic disparity of AIDS money, which was distributed back in the classic days of AIDS when the disease was focused on the urban centers and classically gay meccas. Now it's moving and President Obama is being asked to retool the money to reflect that:

Following a battle on the Senate floor last night, San Francisco may once again receive a disproportionate amount of HIV/AIDS funding if the omnibus appropriations bill passes. U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced an amendment to stop that funding shift and ensure rural and southern states with increasing HIV/AIDS populations are properly funded. The Senate voted against the amendment by a vote of 42-53.

“This body just gutted a carefully worked formula where all individuals with HIV/AIDS truly got the funding and resources needed. Now we’re back to square one with rural and southern states taking a back seat to the districts of Democratic leadership,” said Enzi.

The omnibus package includes a provision to overturn funding formulas that the Senate and House carefully negotiated in the reauthorization of Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act in 2006. Enzi worked on those funding formulas to ensure all states were treated fairly, especially rural areas and the South, where the disease is spreading most rapidly. Enzi’s 2007 amendment, identical to this year’s omnibus amendment, passed the Senate by a vote of 65-28. House Democratic Leadership inserted a provision in the omnibus appropriations bill, H.R. 1105, that would put funding for Ryan White at levels prior to the 2006 changes. Those formulas favor cities like San Francisco that have a longer history of AIDS infections over states where the disease is now spreading.

“This exact amendment passed the Senate two years ago and now it was voted down by strict party lines. If this is bipartisanship and change in action then we’re in trouble. It is unfortunate that HIV/AIDS patients are turning into pawns for leadership to score political points,” said Enzi.

Enzi said this change in the omnibus bill does not allow money to follow the patient; it allows money to follow those who are in power.
It's actually a really good point to be made, but we were always in a semi-lucky place here in Ohio in that we didn't stand to lose much, nor did we stand to gain much either. So, yea...

On another front of the HIV/AIDS issue, the newest step towards an HIV vaccine is starting to show promise:
With the support of the National Institutes of Health, the Arnolds and their team have been able to take a piece of HIV that is involved with helping the virus enter cells, put it on the surface of a common cold virus, and then immunize animals with it. They found that the animals made antibodies that can stop an unusually diverse set of HIV isolates or varieties.

Some researchers have previously been able to elicit effective antibodies, but usually only against a very limited number of HIV types. With HIV’s known propensity to mutate, antibodies developed against one local strain may not recognize and combat mutant varieties elsewhere. These geographic varieties with different mutations constitute one of the great challenges to finding a broad spectrum vaccine capable of protecting against the vast array of HIV varieties.

The approach taken by the Arnolds and their colleagues has been to identify a part of the AIDS virus that is crucial to its viability – something the virus needs in order to complete its life cycle – and then target this Achilles heel.

“The part that we targeted plays a role in the ability of HIV to enter cells, and is common to most HIV varieties,” Gail Ferstandig Arnold said. “That is a mechanism that would not be easy for the virus to reinvent on the fly, so it turns out to be a really helpful target.”
...but a lot of possibilities have shown promise, so this is, as yet, of undetermined significance. Not until we get a good, strong, human study will we know much more than this.

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