The Experts Discuss the AIDS Crisis: A Recap of the HIV/AIDS Panel

A data clerk interviews the first methadone patient in Tanzania. Methadone is an anti-addictive drug used as a substitute in the treatment of heroin and morphine addiction. Courtesy of Dr. Robert Bruce.

On November 29, in honor of World AIDS Day 2012, Yale researchers Doctors Robert Bruce, Sheela Shenoi, and Gerald Friedland met to discuss the current state of the global AIDS pandemic.

During the panel, the doctors spoke on many subjects but ultimately agreed that medicinal accessibility is the main challenge to the AIDS epidemic. “Things have gotten much better for groups that have access to medications that 10 years ago would be impossible,” said Bruce. According to Shenoi, improving accessibility in poor countries is “a matter of improving the health infrastructure.” Because AIDS suppresses the immune system, diseases like tuberculosis can more easily be contracted. “Developing countries have difficulty treating TB, and HIV is only gas on the fire which makes the TB epidemic much worse,” Bruce added.

Dr. Bruce (right) interviewing a drug user (left) in Dar, with the aid of a translator (center). Courtesy of Dr. Robert Bruce.

The spread of AIDS is anything but uniform. Drug users and sex workers in Tanzania face a 42 percent infection rate against a 5.6 percent overall rate for the entire Tanzanian population. “The people that governments may want the least to do with need to have access to medications to really tackle the problem,” said Bruce. But oftentimes, injection drug users cannot seek help due to punishments associated with admitting to using illegal drugs. Bruce signaled for policy changes in order to allow the infected the aid they need to end their addiction: “We can’t have an AIDS-free future when some of the highest-risk people don’t have access to medications.”

Dr. Shenoi concluded, “It’s important for ordinary people to keep the pressure on… for governments to continue funding the work we do.”

The entrance sign for one of the Tanzanian methadone clinics. Courtesy of Dr. Robert Bruce.