A.U. Health Ministers Receive Plan To Produce Low-Cost, Generic Drugs in Africa; Demonstrators Protest Funding Shortages for AntiretroviralsAfrican Union health ministers on Wednesday at a three-day summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, were presented with a plan for developing low-cost generic versions of drugs -- including treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis -- on the continent, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Many African countries currently import low-cost generic drugs from India and China, but both countries are subject to patent laws, which could restrict Africa's access to the medicines, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. Mamadou Diallo, chief pharmacist in the A.U. commission's medical services directorate, said Africa has the resources and capacity to produce drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. According to AFP/Yahoo! News, a World Health Organization report showed that 37 out of 46 African countries have pharmaceutical industries, Egypt has more than 30 drug manufacturing facilities, and Nigeria and South Africa currently manufacture medicines. "We need to produce (medicines) in Africa," Diallo said, adding, "The main objective is to identify which kinds of medicines we are going to produce, essential drugs we need for Africa and who is going to produce these drugs." Diallo also said that the decision would depend on health ministers attending the conference to move forward with the plan. Nthari Matsau, deputy director general in South Africa's health ministry, confirmed that the ministers would discuss the plan but said that he would not provide further details until after the meeting (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/11).
Demonstrators Protest Funding Shortages for HIV/AIDS Services
The Treatment Action Campaign and organizations from across Africa protested on Wednesday at the conference, calling on health ministers to uphold funding pledges and targets for HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care agreed to last year at an A.U. summit in Abuja, Nigeria, South Africa's Cape Argus reports (Caelers, Cape Argus, 4/11). African leaders at the end of the summit pledged to work toward providing universal treatment access for people living with the diseases on the continent. The leaders, in demonstration of their renewed commitment, adopted the Abuja Call for Accelerated Action Towards Universal Access to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Services. The document lists six goals -- to be achieved by 2010 -- including providing access to basic services to at least five million children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS; ensuring that at least 80% of people have access to voluntary HIV testing and counseling services; ensuring that 80% of people have access to condoms for HIV prevention; and ensuring that all HIV-positive people living with TB have access to antiretroviral drugs and counseling. The declaration also called for the promotion of partnerships, research and development, and strengthening oversight, evaluation and reporting mechanisms, as well as greater civil society and private sector involvement in controlling the three diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/8/06). In a statement, the protesters expressed concern that the documents under consideration at this year's conference "give scant attention to AIDS treatment and [antiretrovirals] in particular," adding, "Even the draft implementation plan for achieving universal access to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria services fails to mention the targets for treatment committed to in Abuja last year" (Cape Argus, 4/11). The protesters also said, "We will not go back to the days when HIV prevention was pitted against treatment instead of both interventions being seen as mutually reinforcing and equally important." The groups also called for accelerated provision of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (Kahn, Business Day, 4/11). A.U. Commission Chair Alpha Oumar Konare, speaking on Tuesday ahead of the summit, said, "Last year we made new commitments to make resources available, but when I look at the tools being implemented, I see no positive developments" (AFP/Citizen, 4/11).