Piot Urges More Focus on AIDS Prevention Rather Than Price of AIDS Drugs
As the United Nations prepares for its first session dedicated solely to HIV/AIDS next month, UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot has voiced concerns that efforts to combat the epidemic have shifted away from prevention strategies and more toward the affordability of antiretroviral drugs, the New York Times reports. Noting that thousands of communities still lack access to basic prevention methods, including condoms, Piot said, "We feel very strongly that the response to AIDS has to be a balanced one: prevention and treatment. In the current climate, people forget that. I'm really getting tired of the fact that a terribly complex problem of treatment and care for people having HIV is reduced to the price of antiretroviral drugs." Underscoring Piot's concerns, the Global Treatment Access Campaign, a coalition of AIDS activists, is expected to protest outside the U.N. meeting next month, demanding a "war chest" of $16 billion to fight AIDS, the cancellation of developing countries' debts and a halt to the United States' efforts to "protect drug companies from patent challenges in poor countries." Piot contends that before large amounts of money can be spent in developing countries, "more effective prevention, testing and delivery systems must be put in place." Piot said, "We start with the real problem: building the infrastructure. For AIDS you need more than health care, you need the school system, you need all the communications." Piot said that pharmaceutical companies, governments and the community must be engaged in fighting the epidemic, adding, "We work with everybody who's part of the problem to find a solution. I think that very soon the issue of the price of antiretroviral drugs will be off the table." He added, "The government sets policy, makes sure there are resources and all that, but it's not government that's going to promote condoms in gay bars at night -- nowhere in the world. To promote condoms you don't need doctors. You use commercial outlets, all these kiosks with women selling soap, beer, cigarettes -- that's were people go for condoms, not to a clinic." However, Piot said that in areas that will never have access to antiretrovirals, both male and female condoms need to be more readily available. Noting that "very conservative views" sometimes block the development and distribution of female condoms, Piot said, "This seems to me ... a really sexist approach, not thinking that women need something also that's under their control. Let's make sure that we increase the options for women to protect themselves -- and increasing means from zero to one option" (Crossette, New York Times, 5/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.