African Leaders Aim To Address HIV/AIDS, Development Goals at African Union Summit
African leaders meeting at this week's African Union summit in Abuja, Nigeria, in a session devoted to the HIV/AIDS pandemic are hoping to address government funding, "[c]ontroversial" drug trials, "battles" over drug patents and the fate of millions of AIDS orphans, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Some AIDS advocates also expressed hope that the session would lead to commitments from leaders to increase spending on public health in an effort to curb the spread of HIV, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. "We are definitely optimistic that this time there will be some movement, that this time there will be not just talk about an HIV strategy for the A.U. but how to tackle an action-oriented plan," Shehnilla Mohamed, coordinator for regional media and advocacy for Oxfam in South Africa, said, adding, "Governments are learning that fighting AIDS is not just a health issue but a development issue. Now they have to deliver on the existing protocols and develop a serious -- and practical -- strategy." In the four years since A.U. was created, Mozambique is the only member nation to commit to allocating 15% of its gross domestic product to health care, while the remaining 52 members spend less than 10% on health care, the AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/29).
Africa 'Not on Track' To Meet Millennium Goals, Annan Says
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the A.U. summit, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Africa was "not on track" to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty and disease and called for "drastic steps from across the world's poorest continent" to achieve them, Xinhuanet reports (Xinhuanet, 1/30). "Africa has an indispensable contribution to make in ensuring that 2005 becomes a turning point for the continent, the United Nations and the world," Annan said, adding, "It can bring to the process a deep understanding of the hopes and aspirations not only of Africa but the whole developing world (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/30). Annan pledged U.N. assistance for the continent, adding that wealthy nations also should provide more aid and relieve debts owed by African nations. "We must not wait for tomorrow's breakthrough to address today's dreams," he said (Xinhuanet, 1/30).
According to the World Health Organization's December 2004 "3 by 5 Progress Report," 310,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa as of last month were receiving antiretroviral drugs -- leaving approximately 3.7 million HIV-positive people without treatment. Increasing the number of patients who receive drug therapy has become a "major challenge" for some African governments, as the demand for the subsidized drugs "vastly outstrips" the supply, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. The drugs also cost about $600 per patients annually, making treatment "an impossible dream on the continent," AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Generic versions of some antiretrovirals have been priced as $300 annually, the cost of which WHO hopes will be offset by private and government funding pledges, international aid organizations and national resources (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/29).