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Press Release

The United Nations Secretary-General To Lead the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

April 5, 2001

Amsterdam -- The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, today met with six of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies to agree what further steps need to be taken to improve access to better healthcare, HIV medicines and HIV-related medicines for developing countries as part of further action to combat AIDS, including prevention, education and research.

The Secretary-General met with CEOs and senior executives of six pharmaceutical companies (Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Hoffman-La Roche, and Pfizer). At the meeting, the Secretary-General was joined by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, and Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The companies have made significant progress individually in providing an expanded number of drugs to combat AIDS, including antiretrovirals and treatments for opportunistic infections. Prices have come down substantially as a result of the companies' individual actions. The Secretary-General urged them to continue and accelerate these initiatives. Special emphasis was placed on the Least Developed Countries, particularly those in Africa, as well as the need for continued country-by-country negotiations in other developing countries. All recognized that qualified non-governmental organizations and appropriate private companies offering healthcare to employees and local communities in these nations should also be considered for increased accessibility to HIV/AIDS medicines.

"Encouraging the active participation of all partners in the fight against AIDS has become my personal priority," said Kofi Annan in a statement released today. "The epidemic is the greatest public health challenge of our times and we must harness the expertise of all sectors of society. The pharmaceutical industry is playing a crucial role. We need to combine incentive for research with access to medication for the poor. Intellectual property protection is key to bringing forward new medicines, vaccines and diagnostics urgently needed for the health of the world's poorest people. The UN fully supports the TRIPS agreement -- including the safeguards incorporated within it. However, the solution does not lie with the pharmaceutical companies alone. I am calling for a major mobilisation -- of political will and significant additional funding -- to enable a dramatic leap forward in prevention, education, care and treatment."

The companies include four -- Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline and Hoffman-La Roche -- which last year signed a Statement of Intent with five United Nations agencies within the Accelerating Access endeavour in which they committed to explore practical and specific ways of working together more closely to accelerate access to HIV/AIDS-related care and treatment in developing countries. During this time, agreements have been reached between the companies and five countries, Cameroon, Côte D'Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda. Today's discussion builds upon and seeks to expand the progress made to date. This includes efforts made to increase the availability of interventions to reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission.

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"The HIV epidemic demands nothing less than a radical transformation of how we approach health care in developing countries," said Dr Piot, "Many issues must be addressed if care and treatment in the developing world are to be improved, and affordability of medicines is an intrinsic part of such a comprehensive health care strategy."

"Access to affordable medicines is a key element in improving both care and prevention," said Dr Brundtland. "Affordable drugs will catalyze greatly increased attention to voluntary counselling and testing, effective healthcare delivery systems, and innovative funding mechanisms."

In a number of countries, decades of development are being reversed by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Some 36.1 million people are living with HIV or AIDS worldwide, with 5.3 million newly infected during 2000 alone. That same year, 3 million people died of AIDS, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the epidemic to 21.8 million.

The spread of the epidemic and its devastating impact on humanity alarmed the United Nations and prompted it to convene a Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS at the highest political level. To be held from 25-27 June in New York, the Special Session will focus the world's attention on the epidemic. It aims to intensify international action to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and to mobilize the additional resources that will be needed.



  
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This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 
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