HIV/AIDS report summary Jun01
More than five million people die every year from AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis in developing countries - over ten thousand people daily! HIV/AIDS alone currently affects around 35 million people and there is still no cure for them. In Africa, many schools are having to close because teachers, voluntary workers and pupils suffer from one of these diseases. Hospitals and day care centres are also affected as medical staff are similarly affected.
Communicable diseases know no national frontiers. Failure to combat them in one country increases the risk of spreading the disease and recent resurgence of tuberculosis in areas previously thought of as TB-free confirms this.
My Report on "Accelerated action to combat communicable infectious diseases" has sparked considerable interest and attracted wide support from all political parties in the Parliament. It calls for a significant increase in co-ordination between the different European Commission Directorates (Trade, Development & Research) to implement a global strategy that will provide additional funding for a comprehensive programme to procure medication, build health infrastructure (day care centres) and to train medical personnel so that those affected may access treatment and return to work. The poor need a basic standard of health services to ensure that they are fit enough to work as it is only through their own local enterprise that they will break the cycle of dependency and achieve self-reliance and esteem.
Funding health services in developing countries is an important part of alleviation of poverty in the world. It is easy for us to be emotive and make political speeches promising millions in financial aid. The record so far is poor - hardly any developed country offers the 0.7% of GNP as aid as promised decades ago. It is simply cruel to raise aspirations of those sick and dying and then fail to deliver. The cost for treating those affected, detecting and treating those infected but not showing the symptoms and prevention is enormous. Just for HIV/AIDS, the 35 million affected would need USD 20 billion and more money would be required for screening those infected and prevention. Therefore, it is important to seek the co-operation of all the stakeholders in this venture.
Recently, a number of the major pharmaceutical manufacturers have offered antiretroviral medicines (for HIV/AIDS) to third world countries at substantially reduced prices. Some have donated large sums for building health infrastructure including support for prevention through by funding education campaigns. Private corporations and trust foundations such as the Bill Gates Foundation have funded country specific programmes for combating these communicable diseases. Such offers of price reductions, funding for prevention and treatment from private sources should be acknowledged and encouraged. Therefore, cooperation between pharmaceutical manufacturers, governments of both developed and developing countries, NGOs and civil society are vital in implementing the global strategy to combat communicable diseases.
How can this co-operation be achieved?
1. Ensure that there is adequate statutory protection of patents for new products and financial incentives like tax exemption on future sale of new vaccines so that pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to invest in research and development of cheaper medicines and vaccines for the diseases of the poor - such research is normally not a priority as the commercial returns on investment are lower than for drugs that treat diseases of the developed countries e.g. diabetes, blood pressure, ulcers, cancer etc.
2. Seek initiatives to attract adequate funding from the developed country governments, oil-rich nation governments, private corporations, World bank, IMF and others to support a global fund to combat these diseases.
3. Use all means to persuade governments of developing countries to allocate a substantial percentage of their national budgets to healthcare services and establish appropriate medical infrastructure. They should not levy any duty or local taxes on importation of essential medicines.
4. Promote the establishment of a technical and legal working group in WTO to assist developing countries in clarification, interpretation and modification of international trade agreements including TRIPS.
Encourage the WHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS and International Red Cross to assist in
establishing essential drug lists specific to developing countries
according to their need.
My initiative has been supported by Dr.Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN who has started the global fund. It has been supported by the governments of UK, USA and other EU Member States as well as numerous private trust funds such as the Bill Gates Foundation. This is good news for the poor but I shall continue to fight for this cause until the battle is won!