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Tag: World Health Organization

The COVID Pandemic: WHO Dunnit?

By ANISH KOKA, MD

COVID is here. A little strand of RNA that used to live in bats has a new host.  And that strand is clearly not the flu.  New York is overrun, with more than half of the nation’s new cases per day, and refrigerated 18-wheelers parked outside hospitals serve as makeshift morgues.  Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia await an inevitable surge of their own with bated breath.  America’s health care workers are scrambling to hold the line against a deluge of sick patients arriving hourly at a rate that’s hard to fathom. 

I pause here to attest to the heroic response of the medical community and the countless more working to support them. At the time of this writing, despite 368,000 confirmed cases in the United States, 11,000 deaths have been reported.  A horrid number, but still a far cry from Italy with 130,000 cases, and 16,523 deaths, and Spain with 14,000 deaths amidst 140,000 cases.  Italy and Spain may be a few weeks ahead of the United States, but at the moment, Italy and Spain have case fatality rates (12.5%, 10%) that are multiples of the United States (2.5%). If this rate does stand, it will be a testament to the tenacity of medical workers toiling under extenuating circumstances.

With the scale of the tragedy now obvious, the take from some very smart people is that the people who should have been paying attention were asleep at the wheel.  The easy target is the bombastic New York real estate developer and current President of the United States who repeatedly assured raucous campaign crowds and the nation that the virus was under control before it wasn’t. 

The charge is made that the President ignored warnings and painted a rosy picture of an unfolding crisis in a short-sighted attempt to preserve the economy and a beloved stock market.  He may be guilty of the latter charge, but the real question relates to ignored warnings.  Where were the warnings? Who was sounding the alarm that was ultimately ignored?

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An AIDS-Free Future Requires More Than Medicine

Ruth MessingerIn 1985, during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City, I was elected to the New York City Council. Time and again, I felt heartbroken as my friends and constituents lost their lives to a deadly disease without a cure. Too frequently, they suffered the effects of ignorance, fear and hate.

Now, nearly 30 years later, advances in biomedical treatment have been stunning in their power to achieve an AIDS-free future. But the truth is that prejudice and fear are as persistent as HIV. Medicine alone cannot deliver the future we seek. Even as we celebrate the scientific discoveries and treatments that dramatically reduce HIV transmission and death, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that a biomedical solution can overcome the devastating effects of bigotry. If, as the United Nations agency UNAIDS urges, we wish to get to zero—zero discrimination, zero new infections, and zero deaths—we must take an integrated approach that combines biomedical treatment and an enduring commitment to human rights.

Without a doubt, medicine is working. As of September 30, 2013, the United States’ program, PEPFAR, is currently supporting life-saving antiretroviral treatment for 6.7 million men, women, and children worldwide. This exceeds President Obama’s 2011 World AIDS Day goal of 6 million people on treatment—a four-fold increase (from 1.7 million in 2008) since he took office. But, unfortunately, the World Health Organization predicts that 50 million people will need treatment for HIV by 2030. This means we face a tremendous uphill climb and must somehow identify between $22 and $24 billion—a truly ambitious financial target.

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