New York, 30 January 2003 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontierès (MSF) welcomed the commitment made by US President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address to ask Congress for a dramatic increase in the US government’s financial contribution to fighting the global AIDS pandemic. MSF was encouraged by the President’s clear emphasis on increasing the availability of affordable anti-retroviral medicines. But the organization cautioned that this and past US administrations have a history of reneging on promises made to the international community related to increasing access to treatment, and warned that if the US takes a unilateral approach to fighting the global AIDS crisis, funds will be squandered and lives will be lost.
“Instead of continuing to offer meager sums and prevention-only initiatives, President Bush has stated clearly that his administration has changed its position on AIDS treatment—this is an important step,” said Rachel Cohen of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “But fighting AIDS requires a coordinated global effort, and the President’s plan largely bypasses existing international funding mechanisms, in particular the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We hope that the US will redirect more of the promised funds to existing multilateral funding bodies, rather than waste time and money on creating new ones. It is also important for the US to immediately press other wealthy countries to dramatically increase their contributions.”
By stating that the drop in price of anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy to under $300 per patient per year makes large-scale treatment possible, President Bush has clearly recognized the critical importance of generic competition in mounting an effective response to the pandemic. “The price of AIDS medicines dropped below $300 because of generic drug competition, and we know that this price can come down even further, to as little as $50 per patient per year,” said Cohen. “But, up until last week, the US was still leading a fight at the World Trade Organization to restrict countries from having the maximum flexibility to take advantage of international trade rules that allow them to produce and export the cheapest medicines possible. This is either a major shift in US policy on this issue, or sheer hypocrisy.”
MSF also raised concern about the pace at which the funding will be made available and the scope of the President’s “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,” which will provide funding for just 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. “People with HIV/AIDS in poor countries cannot wait until the next fiscal year to get access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy,” continued Cohen, referring to a White House statement explaining that funding from the President’s plan will begin to be available in fiscal year 2004. “And should people with HIV/AIDS in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and African countries not included in the President’s plan like Malawi be asked to wait for treatment?”
MSF urges the US to make use of existing international mechanisms, such as the Global Fund, to ensure the money is used in the most coordinated, effective manner possible. In addition, MSF calls on other wealthy countries, particularly the European Union and Japan, to take up this challenge and at least triple their contributions to fighting AIDS as well as other killer diseases like TB and malaria well before the Group of Eight (G8) meeting in France in June 2003.
White House fact sheet on Bush statement
Combating the International HIV/AIDS Pandemic
President Bush announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, $15 billion initiative to turn the tide in the global effort to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed at least 20 million of the more than 60 million people it has infected thus far, leaving 14 million orphans worldwide.
Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus ? including three million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than four million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims are receiving the medicine they need.
The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief will help the most afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean wage and win the war against HIV/AIDS, extending and saving lives. The following countries will be the focus of the initiative: Botswana, Cote d?Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
In each of these countries, the United States will work with private groups and willing governments to put in place a comprehensive system for diagnosing, preventing and treating AIDS. Central hospitals will have laboratories, specialized doctors, and nurses to anchor the system. Satellite clinics will provide antiretroviral drugs and education on the prevention of AIDS. By truck and motorcycle, nurses and local healers will reach the farthest villages and farms to test for the disease and to deliver life-saving drugs.
The initiative is intended to:
- Prevent 7 million new infections (60 percent of the projected 12 million new infections in the target countries);
- Provide antiretroviral drugs for 2 million HIV-infected people; and -Care for 10 million HIV-infected individuals and AIDS orphans.
The $15 billion virtually triples the current U.S. commitment to fighting AIDS internationally. It includes $10 billion in new funds, of which $1 billion is for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Funding will begin with $2 billion in FY 04 and ramp up thereafter.