Burkina Faso Conference Ends With Statement of Commitment to Fighting HIV/AIDS, Calls for Increased Treatment Access
The 12th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa ended Thursday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, with the release of a statement that "reassert[ed]" African leaders' "will to pursue the fight" against HIV/AIDS and a call for increased access to AIDS drugs, Agence France-Presse reports. Although the cost of antiretroviral drugs in Africa has fallen by an average of 85% in the past year, many observers said the prices were still prohibitively high for most Africans. Currently, only about 30,000 Africans are receiving the drugs, even though Africans account for 70% of the world's 40 million HIV/AIDS cases (Ingham, Agence France-Presse, 12/14). Speaking Thursday at the conference, Mariane Ngoulla, head of WHO's research unit on traditional medicine in Zimbabwe, said the governments of Zimbabwe and Ghana are negotiating with Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organization to learn how to produce generic HIV drugs themselves for under $350 per patient per year. "We have the facilities, and they are underutilized. Now the question is how to produce cheaper drugs with equal quality and efficiency," Ngoulla said, adding that Thai officials would supply the expertise needed (Ouedraogo, AP/Miami Herald, 12/14). However, delegates to the conference noted that cheaper drugs alone are "not enough" to improve treatment and called for fortification of the continent's health infrastructure.
Refocusing Prevention Efforts
Delegates to the five-day conference also called for a renewed emphasis on HIV prevention, especially among sex workers. According to a study presented at the conference, every dollar spent on counseling prostitutes and supplying them with condoms is 2,000 times more cost-efficient in managing HIV than antiretroviral treatment. Prevention was stressed particularly in light of the lack of progress on an HIV vaccine. Only one vaccine has reached Phase III clinical trials and most vaccine work is "overwhelmingly focused" on HIV subtype B, the strain most commonly found in North America but not in Africa. Overall, however, despite "years of neglect and indifference" toward AIDS by most African governments, Agence France-Presse reports that many are now "working hard" to fight the disease. Delegates cited the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Rwanda and Uganda as "being ahead of the field" and commended Botswana, where more than one in three adults is infected, for its increased efforts. Although conference delegates placed emphasis on leadership and political will, Blaise Compaore, president of host nation Burkina Faso, was the only African leader to attend the conference (Agence France-Presse, 12/14).
Traditional Healers Seek Role in HIV/AIDS Treatment
In other conference news, a group of more than 150 traditional African healers on Thursday issued a statement asking "all countries to put in place legal measures allowing the free practice of traditional medicines" in HIV/AIDS treatment and calling for the creation of an international body for the "protection of traditional medicines." The statement also asked governments to use traditional healers as "agents of information, education and communication" (Agence France-Presse/New York Times, 12/13).