Drug Price War Distracts from ‘Main Issue’ of Securing Financial Commitments from ‘Rich’ Nations, Boston Globe Reports
While health experts have been "encouraged" by recent price cuts in antiretroviral medicines for developing nations, many feel that the discounts have "divert[ed] attention from the main issue" in fighting the epidemic -- convincing wealthy nations to step up funding for anti-AIDS efforts in poorer countries. The Boston Globe reports that increased financial commitments from developed nations are necessary not only to help poorer countries procure the discounted drugs but also to build more health centers and train more health workers. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council, said, "We need to make the prices as low as possible in order to get on with the real challenges -- developing the health care systems essential for providing these drugs and providing realistic financing mechanisms for purchasing them." Several "leading economists and health specialists" have predicted that fighting the AIDS epidemic in Africa would cost the world about $5 billion a year, but the United States currently only spends about $460 million annually in overseas AIDS efforts. The Bush administration and Congress, however, might be ready to raise that figure as support for increased funding grows, the Globe reports. An unnamed senior federal official who works with AIDS policy told the Globe the United States might realistically spend $1.5 billion to $2 billion annually to fight AIDS in Africa. "I think we have to. I think if we say it's a priority, we have to put the funding behind it that demonstrates an effort to address the problem," the official said. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and other Congress members also support a funding increase for African AIDS efforts. "We are going to have a jump in investment," Frist, chair of the Senate African affairs subcommittee, said. In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell has appointed a representative to review the U.S. response to the epidemic in Africa. Activists predict that after the "hurdle" of ramping up U.S. funding is overcome, other wealthy nations will follow suit and increase their contributions. However, U.S. officials warn that African nations must be willing to do their part, with leaders taking "forceful roles" in educating their populations about safe sex and the risks of intravenous drug use. In addition, officials would like to see developing nations bolster their health care infrastructure by creating new community health centers and medical laboratories and training thousands of new health care workers (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 3/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.