A report by UNICEF takes aim at MPs for stopping a bill that could have meant cheaper drugs to treat HIV and AIDS in poor countries.
The report lists the most underreported stories about children's health around the world, including illnesses like malaria and diarrhea, injury and undernutrition. But it also makes a point of mentioning HIV and AIDS, and the recently defeated private member's Bill C-398 that could have meant better access to antiretroviral medications.
"We think it certainly was a lost opportunity and that there was some misunderstanding that went around," said David Morley, president of UNICEF Canada.
"Some members were thinking, oh we might be violating the World Trade Organization, which was not the case, that we might be allowing substandard medicine to go on the world market, which was not the case."
The bill would have made it easier to manufacture and export pharmaceutical products to address public health problems afflicting many developing and less developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.
More than two million children around the world need antiretroviral drugs, but only 28 per cent have access to them, according to the report under the subject heading "When Parliament voted down Bill C-398, it was children who lost."
Pregnant HIV-positive women can transmit the virus to their babies, but that can be prevented if the mother is given medicine. Only half the 1.5 million babies born to HIV-positive mothers get the drugs. More than 530,000 children contract HIV every year, most from their mothers, UNICEF says.
Opportunity to support G8 pledge
New Democrat MP and former diplomat Hélène Laverdière brought forward C-398 after another version barely missed becoming law ahead of the last federal election. That bill had the support of a number of Conservative MPs, but not all of those MPs voted for the bill last month when it was defeated at second reading.
Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, who voted in favour of the last bill, was in the House earlier in the day but wasn't there for the vote. Conservative MP Dean Allison, who chairs the foreign affairs committee and had also voted in favour of the last bill, voted against C-398.
C-398 was defeated 148 to 141.
Morley says passing C-398 would have fit well with Canada's commitment to maternal, newborn and child health, outlined at the 2010 G8 summit in Muskoka, Ont., and heavily promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"It was very disappointing to us. It could have been an opportunity, I believe, for us as a country to show some strong support, frankly, for the Muskoka Initiative. It would have been a ... no-cost way to follow up on some of the promises made at the summit a few years ago," he said.
The UNICEF report lists 10 preventable killers of children in developing countries:
- Pre-term birth complications.
- HIV and AIDS.
- Birth asphyxia.
The report says 19,000 children die every day from preventable causes, down from 33,000 about 20 years ago.
Tetanus is one of the more preventable causes of death on the list and could be eliminated around the world for about $110 million, Morley said. It kills one child every nine minutes.
The UNICEF Canada team also discovered drowning is a major problem in Asia, where 95 per cent of child drowning deaths happen. Drowning rates are 90 per cent lower among children who learn to swim in a UNICEF program, according to the report.
Morley says the purpose of the report is as much to encourage Canadians as it is to give them an update on the status of child survival around the world.
"This is UNICEF's core belief that children should not have to die from these preventable causes," he said.
"There's a lot of positive steps forward so people shouldn't give up, nor should they avert their eyes. If we work together as a global community ... then we can make a huge difference in the lives of children."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that the UNICEF report found 19,000 children die every year from preventable causes. The report actually found that 19,000 children die every day from preventable causes.
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1. Most Don't Have Their Infection Under Control
Only one quarter of the 1.1 million <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/2012/Stages-of-CareFactSheet-508.pdf">people with HIV</a> have their <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/hiv-under-control-1-in-4_n_1711260.html">condition under control</a>, where "under control" means the virus has been suppressed, according to a report released this summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Only if we get <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/health/HealthDay667108_20120727_Only_1_in_4_Americans_With_HIV_Has_Virus_Under_Control__CDC.html">everyone under regular care</a> for HIV/AIDS can we recognize the full benefits of treatment and prevention," Irene Hall, an epidemiologist at the CDC and one of the authors of the report, told HealthDay. <em><strong>CORRECTION</strong>: The first sentence has been reworded to more accurately reflect the number of people with HIV.</em>
2. Bone Marrow Transplants Could Play A Part In Being HIV-Free
Two men with HIV and cancer no longer have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html">detectable blood levels of the virus</a> after receiving bone marrow transplants for their cancers, news outlets reported this year. Doctors were unable to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html">find any traces of HIV</a> in the men's cells after they received the bone marrow transplants while also being treated with antiretrovirals. The finding "suggests that under the <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/07/26/two-more-patients-hiv-free-after-bone-marrow-transplants/">cover of anti-retroviral therapy</a>, the cells that repopulated the patient's immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV," Dr. Timothy Henrich, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, told ABC News. However, the Boston Globe pointed out that it's still too soon to say that these men have been<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/hiv-free-men-bone-marrow-transplants_n_1707505.html"> full-on <em>cured</em></a> of HIV, since they are still on the anti-retrovirals. There's no firm word on whether they will go off of the medication.
3. No-Cost HIV Treatment Could Cut New Infection Rates
New <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/27/free-hiv-drugs-decrease-infection-bc_n_2200393.html">HIV infection rates</a> can be dramatically lowered by making antiretroviral drugs free, a study from Canadian researchers found. The Canadian Press reported on the study, conducted by B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS researchers, which showed that British Columbia -- a province that offers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/27/free-hiv-drugs-decrease-infection-bc_n_2200393.html">free access to antiretroviral therapy</a> -- had the lowest rate of new HIV infections over a more-than-10-year period, compared with Ontairio and Quebec.
4. Many Young People Don't Know Their HIV Status
More than half of HIV-infected young people are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/hiv-youths-infected-aids-young-people_n_2198629.html">unaware that they have the virus</a>, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. "Given everything we know about HIV and how to prevent it in 30 years of fighting the disease, it's just unacceptable that young people are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/hiv-youths-infected-aids-young-people_n_2198629.html">becoming infected at such high rates</a>," Reuters reported CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden saying. The report also showed that for young people, 72 percent of the new HIV infections were in men who have sex with men, while almost 50 percent were in young, African-American males, Reuters reported. These figures are based on 2010 data.
5. More People Are Living With HIV Than 10 Years Ago
The number of people <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">living with HIV</a> has increased by 18 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to a report released this year from the United Nations Programme on AIDS. An estimated 34.2 million people around the world are living with HIV. The report also showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">deaths from AIDS </a>have <em>dropped</em>, from 2.3 million in 2005-2006 to 1.7 million in 2011, Reuters reported.
6. The Cost Of HIV Drugs Is Decreasing
According to the same United Nations report, costs for the cheapest UN-recommended <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/hiv-aids-numbers-statistics-worldwide_n_1682936.html">antiretroviral therapy drugs</a> have also decreased over the past 10 years, Reuters reported. A year's worth of the drugs used to cost $10,000 in 2000 for one person; now, it costs $100 a year.
7. HIV Treatment Truvada Can Also Be Used As A Preventive Measure
The Food and Drug Administration this year officially approved the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">drug Truvada</a> -- which has been used since 2004 as a treatment for HIV -- to be sold as a preventive measure for people who don't have the infection, but are at high risk for it. The FDA said that the pill should be considered for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">preventive use</a> not only by gay or bisexual men who are at high risk for HIV, but also heterosexual men and women who may also face HIV risks, the Associated Press reported. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/truvada-heterosexuals-aids-hiv-prevention-pill_n_1760542.html">Heterosexual men and women</a> make up more than one-fourth of new cases of HIV, and "that's not a portion of the epidemic we want to ignore," the CDC's Dr. Dawn Smith, who was the lead author of the new recommendations, told the Associated Press. The FDA also approved a new drug this year, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/stribild-hiv-treatment-fda_n_1834734.html">Stribild</a>, to treat HIV, Reuters reported.
8. Engineered Stem Cells Could Play A Part In Fighting HIV
In findings published this year in the journal <em>PLoS Pathogens</em>, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles found that it's possible to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/stem-cell-aids-hiv-study-ucla_n_1428660.html">genetically engineer stem cells</a> to attack living HIV-infected cells in mice. While the study was only for "proof-of-principle," it "lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body," study researcher Dr. Scott G. Kitchen, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, said in a statement.
9. Pretty Much Everyone Should Be Screened For HIV
People should be screened for HIV even if they're not at high risk of contracting the infection, according to draft recommendations released just last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The recommendations would mean that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 should be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/routine-hiv-screening-us-preventive-services-task-force-uspstf_n_2161090.html">screened for HIV</a>, even if they're not at high risk for it, Reuters reported. "The prior recommendations were for screening high-risk adults and adolescents," Dr. Douglas Owens, a member of the USPSTF task force and a Stanford University medical professor, told Reuters. "The current recommendation is for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/routine-hiv-screening-us-preventive-services-task-force-uspstf_n_2161090.html">screening everyone</a>, regardless of their risk."
10. People Should Be Treated With Antiretrovirals As Soon As They're Diagnosed WIth HIV
<em>All</em> HIV patients should be <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/23/new-advice-calls-for-putting-all-hiv-patients-on-drug-treatment/">treated immediately with antiretrovirals</a>, according to new guidelines issued this year from a panel of the International Antiviral Society-USA, as reported by <em>TIME</em>. The recommendations are counter to previous guidelines, which said that antiretrovirals should only be used if the CD4 count -- a measure of immune cells in a person's body -- becomes less than 350 cells for every mm3 of blood.
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