Scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment jeopardized by WTO negotiations

MSF is now providing life-prolonging ART for approximately 2,200 people living with HIV/AIDS in diverse health-care settings in 10 countries. In 2003, MSF will double patient intake in existing projects and plans to open additional projects in another ten countries.
Geneva - The humanitarian medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today challenged national governments, international organisations and donor countries to dramatically expand AIDS treatment programmes in the developing world. To reach the millions in need, treatment prices will have to be reduced. As World AIDS Day approaches, MSF calls on trade negotiators currently meeting at the WTO TRIPS Council in Geneva not to compromise the future of affordable medicines. MSF has been caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries for years, and provided antiretroviral therapy (ART) since early 2001. In the past six months, MSF has doubled the number of patients receiving ART in its projects. The organisation now provides life-prolonging ART for approximately 2,300 people living with HIV/AIDS in diverse health-care settings in 10 countries: Cambodia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda and Ukraine. In 2003, MSF will double patient intake in existing projects and plans to open additional projects in another ten countries. "We have shown through our projects that it is feasible to effectively treat people with HIV/AIDS in poor settings - for us, every day is AIDS Day," says Dr Bernard Pécoul, Director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "But we and other NGOs can never reach all the people in need. Governments need to implement national ART programmes. Treatment needs to be free or patients need to be able to afford it. For this to happen, we need cheaper drugs, and simplified treatment protocols that are adapted to developing country settings - one pill a day for 20 cents." "AIDS is a silent war that claims six people every minute. We cannot compromise on people’s lives," says Ellen 't Hoen, Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "Either every country has effective and practical methods to protect public health and promote access to medicines for all - as is called for in the Doha Declaration - or the WTO is a place where crude compromises on public health are hammered out disease by disease, country by country, and jeopardize the health of individuals."
MSF fully supports WHO’s proposal for fixed dose combinations at US$70 per year. For developing countries to have access to affordable medicines for AIDS and other diseases, a flexible approach to pharmaceutical patent protection must be adopted. But the WTO negotiations currently taking place in Geneva are leading to more restrictive and burdensome mechanisms that will block the production and export of generic medicines in the future. "AIDS is a silent war that claims six people every minute. We cannot compromise on people’s lives," says Ellen 't Hoen, Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "Either every country has effective and practical methods to protect public health and promote access to medicines for all - as is called for in the Doha Declaration - or the WTO is a place where crude compromises on public health are hammered out disease by disease, country by country, and jeopardize the health of individuals." Another major barrier to scaling up is lack of funding. To date, donors have only contributed a small fraction of the estimated US$7-10 billion needed annually for AIDS, and prospects for adequate resource mobilisation in the coming year appear grim. The US pledges are well below what their share should be, and the initial 2003 European Commission proposal called for a 50% cut of allocations to the Fund. Wealthy countries are simply not doing their share. MSF calls on developing countries and donor countries to work together to scale up treatment by significantly increasing donor funding, continuing to bring down the price of AIDS medications by using TRIPS safeguards and stimulating generic competition, introducing easier-to-use combinations of drugs, and adapting care models to resource-poor settings.