G8 Leaders Pledge To Fight Infectious Diseases, Prioritize HIV/AIDS Treatment, Vaccine Research
The Group of Eight industrialized nations on Sunday at their summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, adopted a document pledging to increase the fight against infectious diseases -- including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- worldwide, RIA Novosti reports. The 10-page document calls for increased cooperation in infectious disease surveillance and monitoring, intensified research and public awareness efforts, and increased access to prevention and treatment (RIA Novosti , 7/16). "Major diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and measles continue to exact a heavy toll on economies and societies around the world, particularly in developing countries," the document says, adding that for a "large number of these diseases there are still no effective drugs, vaccines or other treatment available for the majority of the population in less developed countries" (Kyodo/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/16). G8 leaders in the document also pledged to make the fight against HIV/AIDS a priority as outlined in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, including providing universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care programs by 2010 (RIA Novosti , 7/16). Russian President Vladmir Putin, speaking at a meeting of G8 leaders and students on Sunday, said, "If programs now in the making are implemented, access to drugs will be provided for all" people living with HIV by the end of the decade (RIA Novosti , 7/16).
HIV Vaccine Coordinating Body
G8 leaders also adopted a Russian proposal for Eastern Europe and Central Asia leaders to work together to establish a regional body supporting HIV vaccine research and development, RIA Novosti reports (RIA Novosti , 7/16). G8 leaders in a statement said that they are "committed" to the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, which was formed in June 2004 by G8 leaders at a summit on Sea Island, Ga., to speed the production of an HIV vaccine. "In this regard, we welcome the Russian proposal to establish a regional coordination mechanism to promote HIV vaccine development in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and call for this initiative to be carefully coordinated with the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise," the statement said (RIA Novosti , 7/16). In addition, G8 leaders said they encourage the development of pioneering HIV/AIDS prevention methods, such as microbicides (RIA Novosti , 7/16).
Commitments to Africa, Global Fund
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday gave an update on G8 pledges regarding debt relief, aid, conflict resolution and peacekeeping in Africa since last year's G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Leaders at the summit pledged to increase aid to Africa over the next year, including boosting efforts to fight infectious diseases on the continent and increase access to education, London's Guardian reports. They also agreed to an annual review of pledges made at Gleneagles, including increasing aid to Africa and providing universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment (Elliott, Guardian, 7/17). Further discussions on Africa are expected to take place on Monday in a session including the G8, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the African Union, Reuters reports (Clarke, Reuters, 7/16). G8 leaders on Sunday also said they would finance the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2006 and 2007, although Russia was the only country to make new commitments at the summit (Guardian, 7/17). Russia has pledged $270 million through 2010 to reimburse the costs associated with all Global Fund projects in the country to date (Global Fund release, 7/16).
G8 leaders in their discussions also called for the reduction of tariffs for drugs that treat infectious diseases in developing countries, AFX/Forbes reports. "We encourage governments around the world to consider eliminating import tariffs and nontariff barriers on medicines and medical devices, where appropriate, as a measure to reduce further the cost of health care for the poor and expand their access to effective treatments," the leaders said in a statement. According to AFX/Forbes, G8 countries said they hope to motivate drug companies to become more actively involved in creating drug treatments for developing countries. In addition, leaders called for new ways to invest in the research, development and production of vaccines, microbicides, and drugs for HIV, TB, malaria and other infectious diseases (AFX/Forbes, 7/16).
Although some advocates said they welcomed the G8 pledge to increase access to HIV prevention and not only to treatment, others said that wealthy nations need to increase HIV/AIDS funding, or they will miss targets set at Gleneagles to provide treatment to four million Africans living with HIV/AIDS by 2010 (Lowe, Reuters AlertNet, 7/16). Other nongovernmental organizations said that since Gleneagles, G8 leaders have made few new commitments concerning HIV/AIDS. Oliver Buston, DATA European director, said that G8 leaders at this year's summit have "so far failed to follow up last year's historic commitments to Africa with timebound, concrete, costed plans for delivery" (Dodds, Associated Press, 7/16). According to Kate Krauss of Physicians for Human Rights, G8 leaders also did not adequately address the shortage of health care workers in developing countries (Reuters AlertNet, 7/16). German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to make Africa a priority at next year's summit in Germany (Associated Press, 7/16). Merkel is "now the most important person on the planet when it comes to keeping the rich world's promises to the poor," Buston said, adding, "She now has a full year to pull together a grand international coalition to get every child in school and treatment for every AIDS patient" (Guardian, 7/17).
Laura Bush Visits Center for Children Living With HIV/AIDS
In related news, U.S. first lady Laura Bush on Friday visited the Federal Pediatrics AIDS Center, an orphanage for children living with HIV/AIDS located in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, the AP/Moscow Times reports. During her visit, Bush said that she hopes to discover "what we can do to stop the transmission of AIDS to have a whole generation HIV-free, as well as to be able to treat children so they can live a normal life." Bush also called for efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. According to Yevgeny Voronin, the center's chief physician, attitudes toward children at the center have not changed over the past 20 years. Bush also called for increased HIV testing among pregnant women, saying, "I think we should have an international day of testing here and around the world" (Burkhardt, AP/Moscow Times, 7/17).
Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Summarizes Related Editorial, Opinion Pieces
Several newspapers have published editorials and opinion pieces about the G8 summit, some of which are summarized below.
Washington Post: G8 leaders at the summit should endorse an advance purchase commitment plan approved by G8 finance ministers in April that would promote the development of vaccines for diseases -- including TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS -- that largely affect developing countries, a Post editorial says. "Unlike most aid programs, advance purchase commitments cost nothing unless they succeed," the editorial says, concluding that if they do succeed and "accelerate the development of vaccines for pneumonia and meningitis and later for malaria and AIDS," they will be "more than worth paying for" (Washington Post, 7/15).
- Carol Bellamy and Alan Leather, Brattleboro Reformer: G8 leaders at the summit should "take long overdue steps to mainstream HIV/AIDS into the G8 process" and create a permanent working group on HIV/AIDS, World Learning President Carol Bellamy and Global Unions HIV/AIDS Programme Chair Alan Leather write in a Reformer opinion piece. "The fact that [HIV/ADS] has been addressed on a piecemeal basis for so long is completely unacceptable," and advocates are "tired of broken promises and goals unmet," Bellamy and Leather write. They conclude that after the summit is over, a "permanent mechanism" to "carry on the work the remainder of the year and for years to come" is the "only way we are going to turn optimistic pronouncements into action" (Bellamy/Leather, Brattleboro Reformer, 7/14).
- Vladimir Putin, New York Times: Infectious diseases -- including HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria -- are a focus of the G8 summit because of increasing drug resistance, mortality rates and new infections worldwide, Russian President Putin writes in a Times opinion piece. "Diseases that burden the least developed countries bring poverty and suffering to millions of people," Putin writes, adding that G8 leaders "cannot be indifferent to problems of such magnitude" (Putin, New York Times, 7/15).
- Mikhail Zurabov, Chicago Sun-Times: Participants in the G8 summit have an "immense opportunity to take strong and specific measures against an enemy that promises to grow only more menacing" -- the spread of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria -- Russian Minister of Health and Social Development Zurabov writes in a Sun-Times opinion piece. Although other international issues "demand attention," this is "not the time for the world to become apathetic to the enormous challenges to combat infectious diseases," Zurabov writes, concluding that the G8 summit "represents the perfect place and time to move swiftly to tackle infectious diseases even more actively and strenuously" (Zurabov, Chicago Sun-Times, 7/15).