AIDS Budget Conference in South Africa   Nov 01

President, Honourable Members of Parliament, distinguished guests,

I am delighted to be here and honoured to speak to you as the European Parliament Rapporteur on "Combating communicable diseases HIV/AIDS, TB & Malaria" - a report that was adopted unanimously by the Parliament on 4th October, 2001.

AIDS, TB & Malaria kill almost 5 million every year worldwide and 3m of these are in Africa! South Africa has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS and this Conference confirms the commitment of the African Parliamentarians and their Governments as they try desperately to deal with the scourge of diseases that threaten and destroy communities and national economies.

AIDS is not simply a social issue for a few countries, it is not merely another one of the developing world's diseases, it is a calamity affecting every corner of the globe, disabling the workforce, undermining economic development, increasing social exclusion and exacerbating world poverty. It has spread rapidly and dramatically, currently affecting around 35 million people worldwide.

I have come here to express not only my concern but the concern of the 15 Member States of the European Union. The European Parliament, the Belgian Presidency of Council, the ACP:EU Joint Assembly recognise the serious problems facing Africa. I have come here to listen to your concerns, to learn how we in the European Union can best help you both financially and technically to procure appropriate medication, to help your governments build health infra-structure including day care centres, help train your biomedical technicians who can screen, diagnose and monitor patients, and to encourage technology transfer for local manufacture wherever this is economically viable.

I was born in Tanzania where my family has lived for over 165 years. My family established a pharmaceutical business and I, as a pharmacist, played my part in manufacturing a wide range of generic medicines for supply to local hospitals. I have travelled extensively in rural areas in Tanzania visiting virtually all missionary and government hospitals. In 1967 I drove all over Zambia and to Niagra Falls.

Rural populations are deprived of hospitals and clinics as doctors and biotechnicians are hard to recruit. Such hospitals lack resources  and medical equipment for operations and diagnostic tests. I encourage my colleagues in the European Parliament to venture out into the rural areas to see for themselves the inadequacies of health infra-structure so that they can understand the magnitude of the problem facing African countries. South Africa is, of course, a lot better off than most other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa but even here you have an urgent need to treat rural populations who are victims of disease without any finance or facility to access treatment.

My Report on "Combating communicable diseases" underlines the need for a global strategy to fund a comprehensive action plan to build appropriate health infra-structure, train biomedical technicians for diagnosis, encourage development of new vaccines, procure supply of medication at affordable prices, encourage technology transfer to manufacture locally wherever possible and to invest in a comprehensive prevention scheme that is based on education, nutrition and environment.

Building health infra-structure does not always mean building expensive hospitals in urban areas. It is essential that investment is made in mobile clinics that service rural areas to help scan, diagnose, administer treatment and monitor patients- a clinic that can use modern videoconferencing facilities to access consultant services at national hospitals or even consultants abroad. Such clinics can be supported by regional manufacturing units that can produce and distribute medicine and carry out quality controls. Such facilities are taken for granted in the West but simply do not exist in poor countries. Communicable diseases cannot be eradicated without such infra-structure.

Most African countries lack not only doctors but biomedical technicians who perform an essential function in medical tests that assist diagnosis. There is an urgent need to train such people. South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and such countries have the academic institutions to assist in training and the European Union needs to fund and establish a programme that will use these facilities.

This idea has been supported publicly by the UN, WHO, UNICEF, Governments of G8, the IMF, World Bank and numerous charitable trusts like the Bill Gates Foundation. President Bush in USA has already pledged $200 million to the fund, while the UK Government has said that it will contribute 200 million over 5 years. We need to persuade the oil-rich nations to make a contribution as well. We shall need this global fund to be big enough to invest in a comprehensive prevention programme that requires development of education and social welfare. 

Finally, I wish to say that the EU is committed to lead the global Programme of Action to help eradicate these communicable diseases. I, as Rapporteur of the European Parliament, will make sure that our the EU efforts will have a significant impact on reducing the poverty that is an inevitable consequence of the spread of these killer diseases.