U.K. Finance Minister Presents $10B International Plan To Fight AIDS; Plan Includes Drug Provision, Vaccine Research
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown on Wednesday in Tanzania introduced a $10 billion international plan to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic that includes "dramatic" funding increases for "every front in the battle" against the disease, Reuters reports (Green, Reuters, 1/13). Speaking to an audience of ministers, business leaders, and health and social workers during a stop on his weeklong tour of sub-Saharan Africa, Brown said that "a way forward cannot involve one initiative in isolation but requires us to focus on prevention, cure, treatment, capacity building and anti-poverty strategies. Investment in all these must move together. And tackling HIV/AIDS in developing countries requires us to bring all our resources to bear" (Adams, Financial Times, 1/13).
Brown called upon wealthy nations to increase funding pledges to fight HIV/AIDS to ensure that countries most affected by the pandemic can make investments in sex education and hospitals and purchase antiretroviral drugs to "save millions of lives in the future," according to Reuters. "Existing financial mechanisms on their own will not stop the pandemic," Brown said, adding, "I believe that the strategy I have put forward today ... is not just a better way but perhaps the only way of avoiding an even greater catastrophe." He added that his initiative aims to double the current $750 million spent worldwide annually on vaccine research and coordinate an international system so that "breakthroughs" made by scientists "can be shared more widely," Reuters reports. If such funding increases are realized, Brown said that a vaccine might be possible three years earlier than the current projection of 2020, which would save an estimated six million lives and reduce treatment costs, according to Reuters (Reuters, 1/13). However, Brown's "prediction" that a "partly effective" vaccine could be available three years earlier than current predications might "surprise some scientists who believe a breakthrough is still a long way off," according to South Africa's Mail and Guardian (Wintour, Mail and Guardian, 1/13). Brown's plan also would encourage pharmaceutical companies to speed up vaccine research by securing pledges from wealthy nations to purchase vaccine doses on behalf of African governments. In addition, Brown would ask countries to increase pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by "billions of dollars" so that the organization "can rely on a steady supply of cash" to fund the "rapid expansion" of HIV/AIDS programs in impoverished countries, according to Reuters.
The plan also would combine HIV/AIDS programs with larger initiatives addressing poverty. Initial funding for the plan would come from Britain's proposed International Finance Facility, which would frontload international aid to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Brown said that more than 50 countries -- including France and Italy -- have expressed support of the initiative, although the United States "has so far failed to fully endorse the plan," Reuters reports (Reuters, 1/13). Italy's Finance Minister Domenico Siniscalco plans to draw up proposals on research coordination for next month's meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Brown said he believes the United States "can be won over" at that meeting, according to the Financial Times (Financial Times, 1/13). Brown also said he plans to use the United Kingdom's status as 2005 host of the Group of Eight industrialized nations -- which includes all of the G7 nations and Russia -- to "push the issue forward," BBC News reports (BBC News, 1/13). Siniscalco also is examining how the public and private sectors can work together on drug development, vaccines and other technologies, and he already has approached some pharmaceutical companies about the plan (Financial Times, 1/13).
The Global Fund "hailed" Brown's announcement as a "comprehensive global plan to combat HIV/AIDS" and a "far-sighted, balanced and sound strategy" that could "break the AIDS pandemic," according to a fund release. "AIDS is not unbeatable," Global Fund Executive Director Richard Feachem said, adding, "It is not a natural catastrophe we have to endure. But to get on top of this pandemic, we need to think big and act boldly. We need to invest up front. Unless we reach a high threshold of action and financing, our efforts are wasted. Gordon Brown's ideas are big and bold -- just what we need to win the war against this virus" (Global Fund release, 1/13). In an editorial by London's Independent, the newspaper calls Brown's plan a "laudable cause," adding that there are "enough glimmers of hope to show that Gordon Brown is right on one thing: AIDS can be beaten -- and it must be" (Independent, 1/13).
'We Must Be More Bold,' Brown Says in Opinion Piece
With at least 11 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa and more than two million HIV-positive children worldwide, it is "urgent that in 2005 we act," Brown writes in an Independent opinion piece. "Our plan starts from the failure so far" of vaccine research, as doubling funding into the research could "advance the discovery of an AIDS vaccine by three years, saving six million lives," according to Brown. However, "we must be more bold" and "internationalize research," as well as "do more to finance the treatment and care of those currently living with HIV/AIDS and their families," Brown writes, adding that funding for health care systems in the most affected countries and for the Global Fund also should be increased. "Finally, our HIV/AIDS strategy must be underpinned by a broader anti-poverty strategy" because the "problems of HIV/AIDS are inseparable from the problems of poverty," Brown says. "At least $10 billion per annum is needed to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in low- and middle-income countries," Brown says, concluding, "Existing financial commitments on their own will not stop the pandemic" (Brown, Independent, 1/13).
Independent Special Report
The Independent on Thursday also published two articles in a special report on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The first article examined the impact of HIV/AIDS on African children, which is "only one of the many uncertainties about the future of the epidemic" (Laurance, Independent, 1/13). The second article examined Brown's proposal for additional funding for vaccine research and how a preventive vaccine could impact the spread of HIV worldwide (Russell/Holt, Independent, 1/13).