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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Sida, des engagements non tenus

by Vincent Defait

World Aids Day - So Many Promises Broken

Translated Thursday 7 December 2006, by Carol Gullidge

With the toll of Aids-related deaths accelerating each year, and faced with reluctance on the part of wealthy nations and industries to take their fair share of the responsibility, the plight of HIV/AIDS sufferers in poor countries looks increasingly desperate.

Events

World Aids Day. Three million deaths each year: due to inadequate treatment, the virus, which first appeared twenty-five years ago, continues to kill on a massive scale. From one setback to another: in the fight against Aids, the objectives of the international community grow ever more distant with each passing year. Sadly, the commemoration day celebrated on December 1, and dedicated to the struggle against Aids, fares no better.

Over twenty-five years after the discovery of the HIV virus, “there have never been so many people who are HIV positive, and never so many Aids-related deaths,” claims Emmanuel Chateau, co-president of Actup Paris - an activist group that supports those affected by Aids. According to the latest annual UNAIDS report, published the previous week, 39.5 million people are carriers of the virus. And it is clear that the figures are on the increase. Every day, 11,000 people - young people especially from the former Soviet Union and Asia - become infected with the virus. “Everybody behaves as though this epidemic is unavoidable,” complains the militant, “yet it is a political problem.” The World Health Organization’s slogan: “Stop AIDS: Keep the promise” aimed at the wealthy nations, reminds us of this. For all that, is the UN’s message falling on deaf ears? The feeble efforts by the great powers confirm this to be the case.

Medication monopolies persist

Two figures sum up the first renegation: “3 by 5”. In other words: three million patients from poor countries should have been treated by 2005. The wealthy nations took on this commitment before the UN. Well ahead of the expiry date, it was clear that the objective was unattainable. Another challenge, another broken promise: access to Aids treatments for all by 2010. “We estimate that by 2007 we will be 13 billion dollars short” of the target needed to fulfil this commitment, Emmanuel Chateau estimates. And, in order to adhere to its promises, France needs to increase its contribution to the world effort by 780 million euros. But “the 2007 Budget only allows for 300 million euros”, complained the co-president of Actup.

The final dimension of the denial by the developed countries: on 14 November 2001, the World Trade Association’s Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar adopted a “declaration on intellectual property rights and health”. This agreement should have allowed developing countries to circumvent patent-related monopolies in the event of public-health emergencies, in order to ensure that populations had access to treatment. In other words, this meant authorising production of cheaper - generic - medicines, based on molecules developed by the pharmaceutical industry. Five years on, 74% of anti-Aids medicines are subject to monopoly, and 77% of Africans have no access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. “Given current prices, there is no doubt that the cost of accessing new drugs will signal the failure of treatment programmes, and - in spite of this - governments, the pharmaceutical industry, and multilateral agencies have never come anywhere near to actively tackling this question,” complained Tido von Schoen-Angerer, of Médecins sans frontières.

In fact, neither the pharmaceutical companies nor the developed countries have contributed their fair share. Starting with the United States, who attempted to bypass the Doha declaration by signing bilateral free-trade agreements with developing countries. These agreements ban their signatories from any recourse to generic medecines. The previous day, the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, addressed the “citizens of the world” and, above all, their leaders: “Taking responsibility demands that every president or prime minister, every parliamentarian or politician – should make up his mind and declare: ‘Aids is my problem.’” What will their response be?

Translator’s note

TRIPS Article 17

“We stress the importance we attach to implementation and interpretation of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) in a manner supportive of public health, by promoting both access to existing medicines and research and development into new medicines and, in this connection, are adopting a separate declaration.”


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