12th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa Opens in Burkina Faso With Calls For Improved Access to Treatment
The 12th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa opened yesterday in Burkina Faso amid calls for improved access to treatment, Agence France-Presse reports. Six thousand delegates -- including public health workers, scientists and government officials from around the world -- will focus on "community solutions" to the African HIV/AIDS pandemic at the five-day meeting (Agence France-Presse, 12/10). According to UNAIDS' annual report on the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, released last month, 28.1 million of the 40 million people with HIV/AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, and without "adequate treatment and care, most of them will not survive the next decade" (Agence France-Presse, 12/7). Blaise Compaore, president of Burkina Faso, yesterday called for a "new solidarity" in the fight against the disease, calling HIV/AIDS a "major crisis retarding development in African countries." He called on other nations and international donors to "collectively pitch in" to expand treatment access for Africans. Although several price concessions from major pharmaceutical makers have lowered the prices of antiretroviral drugs on the continent, the drugs are still prohibitively expensive for most Africans, and only about 30,000 people are currently receiving antiretroviral treatment (Agence France-Presse, 12/10). Support for price concessions and generic competition has gained momentum since the U.S. anthrax scare began. Faced with a possible public health emergency, American officials, who had "loudly defended" the right of pharmaceutical companies to protect patents and intellectual property rights, threatened to break Bayer's patent on the anthrax antibiotic Cipro, forcing the company to halve its price. Jean-Marc Foex, coordinator for the Association Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, a France-based HIV/AIDS charity, said that eventually HIV treatment "will have to be free, but this will only happen if (African) governments are somewhat bolder on this issue and if Western doctors and decision-makers realize that the drugs can be administered properly in poor communities without building up the risk of resistance" (Agence France-Presse, 12/7). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot added that the "undertaking to pay or reimburse medical expenses of the sick has shown significant progress," but added it was "not enough" and more needed to be done (Agence France-Presse, 12/10). Representatives from major drug manufacturers -- including GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck -- are also attending the conference, which is sponsored by the African Society Against AIDS, the African Union Against Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the government of Burkina Faso. The conference will continue through Thursday (Ouedraogo, Associated Press, 12/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.