International AIDS Conference

Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008 11:00 AM

Post staff writer Ceci Connolly was online Thursday, Aug. 7 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about her series of stories about AIDS patients on the U.S. and Mexico border and her coverage of the International AIDS Conference this week in Mexico City.

Video: The Frontline of Mexico's AIDS War

A transcript follows.


Ceci Connolly: Good morning, or should I say, Buenos dias. Saludos de Mexico.

I am here at the 17th International AIDS Conference and eager to take questions, comments, etc.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Ceci, how is PEPFAR going down among conference attendees. It's been criticized, of course, for its stress on abstinence rather than other prevention strategies that are widely considered more effective.

Ceci Connolly: The reaction to PEPFAR here at the conference has been very positive, for a few reasons. First of all, it's a significant amount of money -- $39 billion over 5 years for AIDS, plus $9 billion for malaria and TB.

Second, the travel ban on people with HIV was lifted.


Bethesda, Md.: If I understand correctly needle exchange is for harm reduction. How does that apply for drug addiction??

Ceci Connolly: Needle exchange does not relate to drug addiction -- or treating drug addiction directly. Needle exchange is used as a strategy to reduce the risk of AIDS in injection drug users.

There are efforts underways--I wrote about a team in Tijuana--to use needle exchange programs as a first step toward convincing drug addicts to consider rehab. But it is a long process. This is a link to the story.


Adams Morgan: Maybe I missed it, but is there any good news coming out of the conference? Other than people who are HIV+ are living longer, everything I've read in the past week seems negative. More people in the US are infected with HIV than previously thought. HIV is making a resurgence among young gay men. Has any news come out that might make me feel optimistic or at least not so pessimistic about the fight against HIV and AIDS?

Ceci Connolly: I can understand your pessimism. It is a virus that continues to display its complexity. And when you're dealing with human behavior, it gets even trickier.

My guess is that conference organizers would argue that it's only been a few years since efforts from groups such as the Global Fund and Gates Foundation have really ramped up and in that relatively short period of time they are seeing results in terms of getting lower prices for therapies, getting those treatments to rural villages and expanding prevention programs.

But you are right, there have been a lot of setbacks lately.


Silver Spring, Md.: No question, just a rant: I am stunned by "Dr." Coburn's remarks on AIDS spending. Everyday enormous amounts of federal dollars are spent in Iraq on contractors who do what our own government and armed forces used to do at less than one-third the price, and bridges to nowhere, and useless trailers, and on and on. And he's upset because doctors and scientists meet face-to-face to exchange and discuss scientific findings? I'd understand it if he directed his comments at people in Mexico City from the Census Bureau or Peace Corp or, even more, the political officers from the "Ambassador's" office. But at the doctors themselves? Shame on him! This is one physician who should seriously work on healing his own house. I'm disgusted. (And no, I don't work for the government or anything like that. I just know too many people who are involved in AIDS research, and I know how incredibly exhausting their work is.)

Ceci Connolly: I am publishing your comments in the hopes we'll get others to weigh in.

One observation, the $470,000 Sen. Coburn calculates the federal government spent on this conference is certainly a drop in the bucket compared to the $19 billion spent domestically on AIDS and the $39 billion (over 5 years) just authorized in PEPFAR.


Boston: Have there been protests for nurses and health care providers?

Ceci Connolly: Well, like every good AIDS conference there have been plenty of protests--and performance art and songs and marches and rallies and even a lap dancer in the Global Village. (It had something to do with reaching people at risk of HIV, I swear!)

On the question of nurses, I did receive some information yesterday about concerns over the nursing shortages and how that impacts AIDS care.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think the U.S. will host the conference at some point?

Ceci Connolly: Rep. Barbara Lee, who has faithfully attended many of these biennial conferences, is doing her best to bring the conference to the U.S. Her effort got a big help when Congress removed a ban on people with HIV coming into the states. That provision had made it essentially impossible to host a conference which includes many participants who are HIV-positive from attending.


Washington, D.C.: I've really admired your reports from Mexico, as I think they've been better than what I read in Mexico. Now if I could only figure out why you're on Fox News? Yuk.

Ceci Connolly: Hah!

Let me just say, thanks for your kind words and please keep reading the Post.


Washington, D.C.: What's the best current hope for a cure or vaccine, and how far away from one do you think we are?

Ceci Connolly: The efforts to develop a vaccine have encountered many setbacks of late. It would be many years off, I fear.

Given that, people here at the conference have taken a renewed interest in prevention. And if you think about it, that really makes sense. If we prevent infections, there's less need for expensive treatments.


Help out a cube dweller: What is the main topic of protests this year?

Ceci Connolly: The protests run the gamut. There have been several at this conference having to do with housing problems for people with AIDS. During former President Clinton's speech, a group stood in front of the stage with signs saying "Sin casa, con SIDA" -- homeless with AIDS.

There was an enormous anti-homophobia march last weekend and there have been several demonstrations by women's groups who feel they have not gotten sufficient attention in the AIDS debate.


DC: The ban on HIV+s hasn't entirely been lifted. Instead, it's easier for people apply who are positive, but their visa applications can still be rejected on medical grounds.

Ceci Connolly: That's a very good point. Technically, you could have a very unfriendly administration and State Department create all sorts of loopholes. But my impression after speaking to people in the administration, on Capitol Hill and from the presidential campaigns is that it is time for the U.S. to join most of the rest of the world and allow people with HIV to enter the country.


Washington, D.C.: When might we get the international community to send underfunded AIDS assistance to the nation's capital city with the highest rate of AIDS of any national capital city in the world? And, yes, this is a trick question, yet still a serious one.

Ceci Connolly: Okay, it is a bit of a trick question. But a good one! DC's epidemic is on par with sub-Saharan Africa, so is the AIDS rate in other African-American communities in the states. Interestingly, former President Clinton mentioned this in his speech to the conference. He had no details, but expressed an interest in getting his foundation involved in AIDS work at home.Here's the story.


Ceci Connolly: Thanks very much to everyone who joined the chat today. The International AIDS Conference concludes tomorrow.In the shameless promotion department, our coverage of the conference and other AIDS issues is on a special home page of the Post Web site.


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