December 13, 2002

Bono, Frist address world HIV infection at open forum

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U2 lead singer Bono spoke at a forum this week on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus. Bono was joined at the podium by Sen. Bill Frist, Agnes Nyamayarwo, an HIV-positive mother of 10 from Africa, and Dr. Nils Daulaire. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Bono, Frist address world HIV infection at open forum

A pioneering AIDS treatment program in Nashville could serve as a model for preventing mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus, which is devastating much of the developing world, speakers said Monday at a forum at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel.

“What we do in Nashville could be done anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Stephen Raffanti, associate professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director of the Comprehensive Care Center, one of the nation’s largest out-patient AIDS treatment programs.

More than 85 babies have been born free of the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) during the past four years, after their infected mothers were treated at the center, Raffanti said. Without treatment, about a third of those babies would have been infected during delivery or, later, through breast milk.

Drugs that reduce the viral “load,” the amount of HIV circulating in the mother’s bloodstream, can help prevent transmission of the virus to the baby. A new drug called novaripine, which is given to the mother at the time of delivery and to the infant 72 hours later, also can help. These treatments can now be provided for about a dollar a day, said Dr. Nils Daulaire, president and chief executive officer of the Global Health Council, which hosted the forum.

Just as important as the medication is the support that women get from their case managers, Raffanti said.

“Thirty percent of our women have a substance abuse problem, mostly crack cocaine,” he said. “About 30 percent of them have a mental health diagnosis. Almost all have a history of abusive partners. And many of them have other children who depend on them for their care.”

The program requires building “a community” of care providers to support women in very challenging and complicated social settings. But it can be done. “The technology we have is not very fancy,” Raffanti said.

In addition to Raffanti, the forum featured remarks by Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2 and an AIDS activist, and U.S. Senator Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who has helped lead efforts to increase funding for AIDS prevention and treatment in the developing world. The event was co-sponsored by Nashville CARES, a local AIDS service organization, Save the Children, Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College.

“Two and a half million Africans are going to die next year because they can’t get access to drugs we take completely for granted in the middle of America,” said Bono, whose appearance in Nashville ended a nine-day “Heart of America” tour to raise awareness about AIDS in Africa.

“We have an obligation to pull the very best of our nation together, the whole of our nation’s energy, the resources and above all, to capture the will of the American people,” added Frist, the senate’s only physician and a former Vanderbilt heart-lung transplant surgeon.

More information on AIDS in Africa is available on the Global Health Council Web site,