WASHINGTON – Ashley Judd made her Capitol Hill theatrical debut Thursday,but it wasn't in a romance or a thriller. The documentary depicts her recent trip to Madagascar to teach teenagers about abstinence and safe sex in a country ridden with HIV and AIDS.
Judd,global ambassador for YouthAIDS,joked that it may have been the first time the cable music channel VH1 had been shown in a Senate office building. The cable network will show it Aug. 23.
“As an actress,I know the importance of setting the stage,” Judd said. “Never in my career,however,have I had to set the stage for a drama as devastating and of such historic proportions as the AIDS epidemic we now battle.”
Judd joined a panel of doctors to explain the importance of funding AIDS vaccine research while continuing support for AIDS victims.
“The disease is outpacing us,” agreed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar,R-Ind. “An effective HIV vaccine is the world's best chance to stop this pandemic.”
Lugar said about 40 million people are living with HIV,according to figures released recently from the United Nations. About 14,000 people contract the disease daily,the figures showed.
Spread of the virus in sub-Saharan African countries results from a variety of causes,including sexual violence and cross-generational sex,Judd said.
Rates of infection are six times higher in women. The organization she works with,YouthAIDS,advocates sexual abstinence in those countries and urges married women to negotiate condom use with their husbands,she said.
Judd represented social groups working to eradicate AIDS. Others represented science research groups pushing toward a vaccine.
Members of the HIV Vaccine Enterprise,a board created at last summer's G-8 Summit at Sea Island,Ga.,to coordinate the world's AIDS research projects around a common goal,explained their strategic plan.
The 19-member board works with public and private sectors to coordinate research in several nations,said enterprise co-chair Dr. Helene Gayle,director of HIV,Tuberculosis and Reproductive Health for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The effort to create an HIV vaccine will be a marathon,” Gayle said. “It's not a sprint.”
So far,AIDS vaccination research has been plagued by scientific complications with the changing disease,political controversy surrounding disease transmission and high investment risks for private businesses,Lugar said.
“Still,we know at the end of the day that somebody somewhere has to produce,” Lugar said.
Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass.,expressed “a very deep frustration” that previous AIDS legislation did not include adequate funding for vaccine research.
“We're looking at something that we know is a national security issue as well as a compelling human issue,” Kerry said.
Both the House and Senate will vote soon on legislation that would allot more money for AIDS vaccine research.