US Secretary of State Colin Powell must prove American intent in struggle against AIDS/HIV

Press release: Nairobi 27, May 2001 - The Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines (see footnote *) today called on US Secretary of State Colin Powell to take concrete actions to ensure access to affordable medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Kenya Coalition warned that, although effective treatment exists, millions will continue to die in Africa unless the US and other wealthy governments demonstrate serious political will by committing major financial resources to fund AIDS treatment. The call came as Colin Powell visited Kibera slums in Nairobi, to listen to people with AIDS. "Every Kenyan has a friend or relative infected or dying of AIDS," said Patricia Asero, AIDS outreach worker for Médecins Sans Frontières in Kibera slums, speaking at Powell's meeting with people living with AIDS. "Although effective medicines exist, my husband and my baby both died of AIDS because we could not afford the anti-retroviral treatment. "We are asking you to show us that the US government is serious about supporting HIV treatment for Africans by providing more funding to fight this global epidemic and by supporting all legal measures, including generic competition to ensure access to life-sustaining medicines, including anti-retrovirals in developing countries," she concluded, on behalf of the Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines. The Kenya Coalition for Access to Essential Medicines expressed support for the Secretary of State's visit to Kenya and for his recent public statements regarding AIDS as a foreign policy priority for the United States. However, the Kenya coalition joined other AIDS activists around the world in criticizing the US for only responding with a US$200 million pledge to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's appeal for a Global AIDS and Health Trust Fund to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. This contribution represents merely two per cent of the up to $10billion per annum that health experts are estimating will be needed to control AIDS in Africa. The Kenya coalition called on the US government to actively support all legal measures, including those that encourage generic competition, as a means to ensure the long-term affordability of AIDS medicines and other essential medicines and to ensure a sustainable solution for equitable drug pricing in developing countries. This call comes just one week before the Kenya Industrial Property Bill (IP) 2001 goes to Parliament to be debated and passed. The coalition is advocating for this IP Bill, which will make Kenya compliant with world trade agreements, including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), to include internationally recognized safeguards like compulsory licensing and parallel importing, to ensure generic competition, so that Kenyans will be able to choose from the cheapest medicines available on the markets. In Kenya, it is estimated that around 2.3 million adults are living with HIV, and that around 700 people die each day of HIV-related infections. What has become a chronic disease in Europe and the US, where patients are treated, reducing mortality by up to 80%, remains a deadly plague in Africa. One of the key factors why people continue to die of AIDS is that anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and other essential medicines are too expensive. Although generic companies have been selling triple combinations of ARVs to governments (including Cameroon and Nigeria), at 350$US (see footnote **) per patient per year, in Kenya, the cheapest price negotiated by certain hospitals came to US$1,330- 1,620 (see footnote ***) per patient per year. However, most hospitals and individuals continue to pay much more and only 1-2,000 people are estimated to have access to treatment in Kenya. Footnaote * The Kenya Coalition on Access to Essential Medicines includes: Action Aid, The Association of People living with AIDS in Kenya (TAPWAK); Health Action International (HAI Africa); Network for people living with HIV/AIDS (NEPHAK); Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK); Society for Woman and AIDS in Kenya (SWAK); Nyumbani; International Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA); CARE International; Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); DACASA; Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres (PSF); Kenya Medical Association (KMA); Consumer Information Network; Campaigners for AIDS Free Society. Footnaote ** $350 US per year is KSH(Kenyan Shillings) 27,300 per patient per year, which works out at about KSH 2,275 per month per patient. Footnaote *** $1,300- 1,700 per year is KSH 103,704-126,400 per patient per year, or KSH 8,524-10,389 per month per patient.