Friday, January 8, 2010

Addressing the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa


The MGH Division of Global Health and Human Rights, the Departments of Medicine and Emergency Medicine, and MassGeneral Hospital for Children welcomed journalist, scientist and public health consultant Helen Epstein, PhD, for a Dec. 10 discussion of her experience studying the proliferation of HIV/AIDS on the African continent. Speaking in the O'Keefe Auditorium, Epstein, author of "The Invisible Cure: Why We are Losing the Fight against AIDS in Africa," shared insights and anecdotes from her work in Eastern and Southern Africa and highlighted the myriad challenges facing global health professionals seeking to curb the spread of this deadly disease.

Among the main challenges, explained Epstein, is the problem of ingrained social behaviors. While traditional Western forms of HIV intervention such as widespread testing are well-meaning, they don't fight the AIDS epidemic at its core.

Global health professionals tend to focus primarily on high-risk segments of the population, such as sex workers and their clientele, says Epstein. New data suggest, however, that individuals with a small number of long-term concurrent partners may spread the disease faster, because prevention tactics like condom use or early detection can be more difficult to sustain in long-term relationships.

Epstein suggested that if global health professionals are successful in working with local populations to reduce the number of concurrent sexual relationships, thereby disrupting the system by which the disease is spread, they could greatly affect the number of individuals infected with HIV.

"We were excited to welcome Dr. Epstein to MGH to hear of her work in Africa," says Thomas F. Burke, MD, chief of the MGH Division of Global Health and Human Rights. "Her insight and analysis of the AIDS epidemic raises important questions on how to best prevent the spread of the disease on a local level, thereby affecting its national and continental presence."

Learn more about the MGH Division of Global Health and Human Rights

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