U.N. Special Envoy Lewis Calls for Canada to Double Funding for AIDS Vaccine Research
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis in a recent speech to the Toronto Rotary Club called on Canada to double its investment in HIV/AIDS vaccine research and triple its funding for tuberculosis and malaria research, which would bring the country's total contribution to $100 million, the Toronto Star reports. Lewis, who is Canadian, said it is a "travesty" that while HIV/AIDS patients in developed countries have access to antiretroviral drugs, treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries -- especially in Africa and Asia -- is "out of reach" because the drugs are too expensive, according to the Star. Lewis said, "Only a vaccine will end this pandemic. Until then, we'll forever be counting the bodies." Lewis added that 2004 could be a "breakthrough year" in the fight against HIV/AIDS because pharmaceutical companies, governments and private citizens have the "interest, will and resources" to take action, the Star reports. Lewis said that it could be possible to meet the World Health Organization's goal of providing antiretroviral therapy to three million HIV/AIDS patients by 2005 as long as drug makers continue to lower their prices on the drugs, according to the Star.
Lewis cited a recent measure introduced in Canada's Legislature that would make it easier for generic drug manufacturers to produce antiretroviral drugs (Palmer, Toronto Star, 1/19). Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien in November introduced in the House of Commons legislation that would amend the country's patent laws to allow drug makers to manufacture and export generic drugs -- including antiretroviral drugs -- to developing countries. If passed, the bill would allow the government to amend a WHO list of essential medicines to include other drugs that are patented in Canada. Under the measure, about 50 countries would be eligible to receive generic drugs at a fraction of the prices charged in Canada. One official said that the legislation uses the same language as a November 2001 World Trade Organization statement on patented medications (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/7/03). "We've been marking time until now. Suddenly there's some sense that things are changing," Lewis said, adding, "This is the year it will come if it's going to come at all." The international arm of the Rotary Club is less than two years away from finishing a campaign to eradicate polio worldwide, and the Toronto chapter of the organization appears to be pushing for the group to next target HIV/AIDS for eradication (Toronto Star, 1/19).