Congress Passes Legislation to Renew PEPFAR; Includes Important Step to Address AIDS-related Cancers
In a unique display of bi-partisanship, Republicans and Democrats jointly passed legislation updating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEFPAR) program, and the bill was signed into law on Monday. Since it was first created in 2003, PEPFAR has proven remarkably successful in providing prevention, screening, and treatment services of HIV/AIDS in Africa. But why would the LIVESTRONG Foundation, an organization dedicated to cancer survivors, care about a program for HIV/AIDS?
Overwhelming evidence shows that the disease landscape in developing countries is changing. Cancer accounts for nearly eight million deaths worldwide each year, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. More than two-thirds of all cancer deaths occur in low- and-middle income countries. The shift from infectious diseases to cancer and other non-communicable diseases is becoming a top public health threat in Africa. These trends have a significant financial impact too. Chronic diseases have been ranked as the third most likely risk to the world economy and the fourth most severe in its economic impact.
The LIVESTRONG Foundation has seen this global change coming for years, which is why in 2009 we hosted a Global Cancer Summit in Dublin, Ireland to lead a discussion with world leaders about the rising incidence of cancer diagnoses and deaths. The Foundation was also closely involved in the United Nation’s High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases in 2011, and we continue to encourage policymakers to address this tidal wave of diseases.
One growing and valid concern is that the success of US global programs to fight infectious diseases may be jeopardized because of emerging health threats. What sense does it make to save a life through treatment of HIV/AIDS, but then lose that same life from a treatable cancer?
The PEPFAR oversight bill championed by Senators Menendez and Corker calls for a review of efforts, by country, to address co-morbidities of HIV/AIDS, including AIDS-related cancers. An important milestone in recognizing the toll cancer is having globally and on this specific patient population.
According to the National Cancer Institute, those with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk for certain types of cancers, such as cervical and liver. A weakened immune system from HIV, infection with other viruses, and traditional risk factors all contribute to an increased cancer risk. In fact, one out of six cancers worldwide is caused by a preventable infection.
While the US has the most sophisticated cancer care in the world, simple and low-cost options are available for screening and treatment in developing countries. For example, kitchen vinegar can be used to identify abnormal cells in the cervix so that they can be removed and the cancer risk eliminated. Furthermore, many cancers can be cured or effectively managed with low-cost, off patent drugs; however, critical infrastructure changes are needed to improve access in developing countries.
Just as cancer rates are rapidly rising in the United States, the same is happening globally. Startling health trends calls for an assessment of the US investment to fight specific diseases. PEPFAR needed renewed oversight to ensure its continued success, and we applaud the committee for recognizing the importance of addressing AIDS-related cancers as a co-morbidity of those with HIV/AIDs. So much is left to be done by all stakeholders, and this was an important first step.
- Cameron Krier, JD, MPH