Elis stress local HIV impact

In an auspicious start for today’s World AIDS Day, the student group Universities Allied for Essential Medicine successfully persuaded the University on Thursday not to patent its new AIDS drug, an early step in making the drug, Ed4t, available more cheaply in low-income countries.

To mark AIDS Day, groups such as Yale AIDS Watch are hosting a range of events, including an international videoconference of university students across the world, that emphasize both the global and local sides of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. But while UAEM’s progress on the issue of Ed4t’s patent will benefit many low- and mid-income countries, many Yale professors and students say much can still be done on a local level to manage AIDS/HIV in the New Haven area.

UAEM, an organization of students at top research universities that lobbies those schools to use their influence to make university-produced drugs more accessible to residents of developing countries, met with Yale administrators to discuss the University’s patent on the new AIDS drug Ed4t, which blocks an enzyme essential for the replication of the virus.

Yale had recently licensed Ed4t to a pharmaceutical company but has now agreed not to patent the drug in low-income countries and some mid-income countries.

UAEM is also lobbying Yale to encourage the pharmaceutical company that holds the license for Ed4t to not enforce the license in low-income and some mid-income countries, which would making it possible for a generic producer to sell the drug at a lower cost.

Shayna Strom ’02 LAW ’09, who is active in UAEM, lauded the University’s decision not to pursue a patent for Ed4t, but said that additional policy changes are needed, such as inserting provisions in University licensing agreements to ensure the drugs can be produced cheaply in developing nations.

“Yale has the most leverage before licensing the drug,” she said. “Our concern is changing licensing policies more generally. This is a real opportunity for Yale to be a leader on this issue, as it has been, and really push other universities to do the same.”

Yale’s decision on Ed4t has some precedent, as Yale released its patent on the AIDS drug stavudine in 2001.

The power of developed countries to combat the spread of AIDS will be the emphasis of a live videoconference Friday during which Yale students will speak with students in Uganda, Ecuador and Germany, as well as health police experts from global organizations. The videoconference is organized by Americans for Informed Democracy, a non-partisan organization that focuses on America’s role in an interconnected world.

Seth Green LAW ’07, the president of AID, said he hopes the videoconference will emphasize the human face of AIDS, which he said can often get lost in the plethora of statistics.

“We really want to bring home the very different experiences that countries around the world have had with AIDS,” Green said. “I think it will be a valuable addition to the existing mosaic.”

AIDS Watch member Sofia Solomon ’09 said she the intercontinental discussion will make clear that the issue affects all parts of the world, not just isolated areas.

On Thursday evening, AIDS Watch — in conjunction with the Yale Divinity School, the Center for Bioethics and the Yale Law School Schell Center for International Human Rights — hosted a panel on the topic of AIDS in Africa, which included international activists, journalists and experts in the field.

Paul Wilson, senior advisor to the HIV/AIDS task force of the U.N. Millennium Project, discussed the role of political dogma in HIV/AIDS prevention programs, saying that the Bush administration’s restrictive policies toward aiding needle exchange programs and groups that focus on helping sex workers are detrimental to HIV/AIDS prevention goals.

“The influence of ideology over HIV prevention in this government is damaging,” he said. “It’s very important that prevention strategies be determined by the evidence to the extent that it’s available, and not ideology.”

The panel also discussed the shortage of medical personnel in sub-Saharan Africa.

Stephanie Urdang, consultant to the U.N. Development Fund for Women, said the focus on medical remedies for the HIV/AIDS epidemic is insufficient if not paired with cultural solutions.

“Medical responses are never sufficient unless you also take into account the social issues of gender inequality,” she said. “HIV is just one part of everything else.”

Dai Ellis LAW ’07, director of the Drug Access Team at the Clinton Foundation, said that increased student activism in the area of HIV/AIDS has been key in bringing about real change, even though, as he said, the rise in activism is likely due to the “Angelina Jolie factor.”

“The fact that so many more students care about AIDS — I can’t tell you the difference it makes,” he said.

But some Yale students and professors said attention should also be paid to the local nature of the virus and how the disease is spread in the New Haven as well as Connecticut’s other cities.

Solomon said she thinks students are not fully aware of the disease’s impact on the city. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, New Haven has 1,150 cases of AIDS, the second largest number of cases in Connecticut. 51.3 percent of New Haven’s reported AIDS cases occur in the African American community, and 55 percent of new cases of HIV in New Haven in 2005 were contracted from contaminated needles related to intravenous drug use. Hartford, with 1,480 residents living with the virus, has the state’s largest caseload of HIV/AIDS patients.

Seventy-seven new cases of HIV were reported in New Haven in 2005.

I don’t think people realize how big of a problem HIV/AIDS transmission is in New Haven,” Solomon said.

Kaveh Khoshnood, assistant professor of epidemiology, said he thinks Yale students are more focused on AIDS at a global level than a local one. Khoshnood is involved in the New Haven Needle Exchange Program, which distributes clean needles to New Haven residents in an effort to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission.

“There is a sense that the local issues are more resolved and that the epidemic [is] under control,” Khoshnood said. “There is plenty of work to be done in prevention.”

Other AIDS Day events include a benefit concert in Dwight Hall, a screening of the movie “A Closer Walk” and a Student AIDS Activism Workshop at New Haven high schools.

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