The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS
(UNAIDS) announced on 12 May 2000 that a new dialogue has begun between five
pharmaceutical companies and United Nations organizations to explore
ways to accelerate and improve the provision of HIV/AIDS-related
care and treatment in developing countries.
pharmaceutical companies involved - Boehringer
Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb,
Merck & Co., and F. Hoffmann-La
Roche - have indicated their willingness to work with other
stakeholders to find ways to broaden access to care and treatment,
while ensuring rational, affordable, safe and effective use of drugs
for HIV/AIDS related illnesses. The companies are offering, individually,
to improve significantly access to, and availability of, a range
of medicines. Other pharmaceutical companies have also expressed
interest in cooperating in this endeavour.
companies have responded to calls from UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan inviting the private sector to engage in partnerships for
expanding the global response to HIV/AIDS and to support the International
Partnership against HIV/AIDS in Africa, a collective international
initiative to curtail the spread of HIV and reduce its impact in
recent months, these calls have been reiterated by the heads of
United Nations organizations, in particular by Gro Harlem Brundtland,
Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO), James Wolfensohn,
President, World Bank and Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS,
whose advocacy efforts have been fundamental in drawing leading
companies into cooperative action to help meet the challenges of
the epidemic. The heads of the other two organizations involved
in the discussions, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director, United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Nafis Sadik, Executive Director, United
Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), have also actively promoted effective
alliances with the business community.
Participants in this cooperative endeavour have adopted a set of
principles that reflect a common vision of how the HIV/AIDS epidemic
can more effectively be tackled in developing countries: unequivocal
and ongoing political commitment by national governments; strengthened
national capacity; engagement of all sectors of national society
and the global community; efficient, reliable and secure distribution
systems; significant additional funding from national and international
sources; and continued investment in research and development by
the pharmaceutical industry.
discussions have begun between the five companies and the United
Nations organizations to explore practical and specific ways of
working together more closely to make HIV/AIDS care and treatment
available and affordable to significantly greater numbers of people
in need in developing countries. The intention is to improve the
prevention, treatment and care of HIV-related illnesses, and the
prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Activities to
promote the development of an HIV vaccine are being conducted in
parallel. This endeavour is expected to expand to include other
partners from all sectors.
number of recent pilot initiatives aimed at improving access to
HIV-related care have resulted in useful experience being gained
in mobilizing multisectoral action to strengthen health infrastructures
in developing countries. This new endeavour will aim to build on
the initiation of the discussions, Peter Piot said: "This is a promising
step in a long-term process, and an opportunity for committed governments,
donors, NGOs, people living with HIV/AIDS, and private industry
to enter into discussion to scale up access to care in ways that
respond to the specific needs and requests of individual countries.
Lowering the price of medicines, however, is only one critical factor
in what must become a much broader and more urgent effort to help
people living with HIV and AIDS lead healthier and more productive
lives. We need significant new funding that is on a level with the
enormous human, social and economic challenges now being posed by
accelerated response that more adequately addresses the rights of
all people to HIV/AIDS-related services within the broader context
of national development agendas is considered to be an urgent priority
by the United Nations.
discussions are taking place at a time when there has been increasing
international mobilization to slow the spread of HIV and alleviate
the devastating impact that the AIDS epidemic is having in many
countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS causes
more death than any other infectious disease worldwide and, in the
worst affected countries, one in four adults is now infected.
Some 50 million poor people in
developing nations are infected with
H.I.V.. By some estimates, sub-Saharan
Africa has 80 percent of the world
population of people infected by
H.I.V., though few of those people
have ever had an AIDS test.
In many poor countries, distributing the drugs, teaching people to take
them and monitoring levels of virus,
T-cells and drug residues in the blood
amount to a mammoth task.
"To be realistic, this is not going to
fix the problem, but I'm cautiously
optimistic," said Dr. Piot, of Unaids.
While the agencies involved in today's accord emphasized the hope of
lower prices, the drug companies
focused on joint principles for tackling the epidemic.
stronger government efforts, better
drug-distribution systems and more
financing from donors, all matters
outside the corporate world. Who
would pay to create such standards