Top Five Global Health Headlines: HIV Prevention Breakthrough; Chronic Disease Killers

BY Talea Miller  May 13, 2011 at 12:42 PM EST

AIDS Pills
HIV medications. Photo by AFP/Getty

Early Use of HIV Drugs Could Prevent Transmission

The key to slowing the spread of the HIV epidemic could lie in the medicines already being used to treat HIV positive patients, researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced this week.

A large-scale study found that putting HIV positive patients on treatment while their immune systems are still relatively healthy helps prevent the spread of HIV to sexual partners, reducing the chances of transmission by 96 percent.

The promising results found among 1,800 couples included from nine countries prompted researchers to release the results four years earlier than the planned end of the trial. But the cost of providing universal access to treatment, and the cost of starting patients on treatment earlier in the progression of the disease, could be major barriers to implementation.

The NewsHour reported on the challenges of providing regular access to treatment to patients in Mozambique last year.

Chronic Disease Top Global Killer

Chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer now make up two-thirds of all deaths globally, according the World Health Organization. Many developing countries still struggling with high rates of infectious disease are also seeing rising rates of these noncommunicable diseases that were once considered more a problem for rich countries.

Some of the risk factors for many chronic diseases are tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet, all elements that come into play especially for urban populations around the globe.

Criticism of U.S. Response in Haiti

Republican representatives in the House criticized USAID and the slow progress in Haiti’s recovery Thursday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pointed to inspector reports that show little of the rubble from the 2010 quake has been removed and less than 25 percent of planned transitional shelters have been built.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah he would be fired if those results were seen in a recovery effort in the United States. Shah defended the agency’s efforts, pointing to job creation and provision of clean water and medical services. He also emphasized the Haiti recovery effort is led by the Haitian government, not the United States.

Monkey HIV Vaccine Shows Promise

In more hopeful HIV prevention news, a vaccine was found to provide some protection for macaques from the monkey equivalent of HIV, according to a new study out in the journal Nature.

The vaccine contained a genetically modified form of the rhesus cytomegalovirus, and protected 13 out of 24 monkeys. Researchers say the study could have implications for the development of an HIV vaccine for humans.