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February 21, 2007

Responding to the Global HIV/AIDS Crisis: A Peace Corps for Health

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Department of Health Policy, George Washington University, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 2007;297(7):744-746. doi:10.1001/jama.297.7.744

HIV disease is essentially the Black Death of the 21st century, killing on a massive scale and threatening to cripple economies and topple governments. However, the continued spread of the HIV epidemic and the new availability of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs have triggered an extraordinary response by governments, international organizations, philanthropies, pharmaceutical companies, religious organizations, and individuals. Campaigning against HIV/AIDS has no precedent in the history of medicine. Smallpox was eliminated by a globally coordinated strategy that required a single patient encounter to deliver the vaccine. In contrast, the directly observed therapy strategy at the core of modern tuberculosis treatment necessitates daily patient contact over much of the treatment course and, therefore, a much larger health workforce. Treating AIDS requires the daily delivery of medications as well as the clinical management of patients—for the rest of their lives. Antiretroviral medications can help control disease, but do not cure it. More problematic yet, stopping treatment once started promotes the emergence of resistant strains of the virus, making halfway programs hazardous to public health. The sheer volume of health workers needed to tackle HIV disease—and the health systems to support their work—is off the scale of any previous public health campaign.

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