IAS Conference Begins, Report Says Economic Crisis Forcing Africans Living With HIV/AIDS Off Life-Saving Medications

At a news conference opening the 5th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention on Sunday in Cape Town, South Africa, Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society, expressed disappointment that the “G8 ignored the HIV-AIDS issue at its annual summit this month,” which was “just four years after pledging at the 2005 Gleneagles [G8] summit to fight for universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010,” the Globe and Mail reports. “The silence of the G8 leaders is not just pathetic, it is criminal,” Montaner said.  The Global and Mail writes, “Cutting back on HIV-AIDS treatment programs during the recession will mean billions or even trillions of dollars in additional costs over the long term, especially because of growing scientific evidence that anti-retroviral medicine for AIDS patients can be crucial in preventing the transmission of the AIDS virus, Dr. Montaner said” (York, 7/20).

More than 5,000 AIDS experts from around the world are gathered in Cape Town to discuss progress in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, Health24.com reports (Stassen, 7/20).  “HIV and AIDS is indeed a challenge that has distinguished the last two decades of the last century and, unless we redouble our efforts to conquer this disease, it will continue to define the 21st century as well as for sub-Saharan Africa in particular,” South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said at the conference opening, adding, “This is one challenge we must overcome as soon as humanly possible in order to produce an HIV and AIDS-free generation,” reports Health-e/allAfrica.com  (Thom, 7/19).

On the eve of the conference, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that a shortage of life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Congo, Malawi, Guinea and South Africa would cost the lives of thousands and reverse a decade of gains in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, the AP/Google.com reports. Eric Goemaere, medical coordinator in South Africa of MSF, “said apathy of governments, donors and the organizations they work with, as well as the global economic crisis, were to blame,” according to AP/Google.com. The article examines the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and PEPFAR funding as well as cases in Africa where HIV-positive patients have been forced to halt their medications (Faul, 7/19).

“About 9.5 million people from the countries concerned are HIV positive, and shortages are already threatening their supply of drugs,” risking the patients’ lives and forcing MSF doctors to decide who receives treatment first, BBC/ABC NEWS reports (7/19). MSF appealed for drug companies to submit their AIDS drug patents to a “patent pool,” set up by the international drug financing agency UNITAID, so that developing countries have access critically-needed drugs at affordable prices, the SAPA/Weekend Post writes (7/20).  “It is a question of choice for national and donor governments: will they give poor people just a few extra years of life, or the same chance for long-term survival as people with HIV/AIDS in rich countries?” Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, said in a MSF press release (7/20).

In a separate article, the AP/Google.com reports on a “yet-to-be published analysis” of PEPFAR, which shows a drop in the incidence of HIV in countries that receive PEPFAR funds compared to those that do not receive funds.  Montaner spoke of the findings at the conference, saying, “My research team was able to document a decrease in HIV incidence among PEPFAR focus countries, when compared with non-focus countries, in Africa” (7/19).

The International AIDS Society is providing regular updates on the latest conference developments and resources along with featured guest posts on the IAS 2009 Live blog. 

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