World AIDS Experts Call for Urgent Action, Say Leaders Must Demonstrate Financial and Political Commitment
May 10, 2001
Mont Pelerin, Switzerland -- Some 30 world class experts on AIDS have met with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in an effort to help shape the next phase of the global response to the epidemic. The high-level private meeting in advance of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS sought to clarify global goals and targets under discussion by UN member states and to set priorities in defining how to deal with AIDS.
"There has never been a more important opportunity for concerted world action against the HIV epidemic," said Gordon Perkin, Director of the Global Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "There is an urgent need for a massive increase in access to proven prevention and care tools."
The call for urgent action comes at a time when antiretroviral drugs are becoming more affordable in the wake of commitments made recently by some of the world's major pharmaceutical companies.
While calling for antiretroviral therapy to be made as widely available as possible, the expert group warned against unmonitored or careless use. "Antiretroviral therapy is an integral part of the response to AIDS, so we must strengthen health systems in the poorest countries to make it accessible," said Stefano Vella, President of the International AIDS Society, "Antiretroviral therapy must be applied with care and consideration. Without careful use it can do more harm than good, as the therapy rapidly loses its effectiveness if the virus becomes drug-resistant."
The group also called for urgent action by the world's leaders to commit both the financial resources and the political will to bring the AIDS epidemic under control. The experts reviewed statistics on the costs of the epidemic and endorsed the US$ 7-10 billion figure estimated to be needed to mount an effective response to AIDS in developing countries. According to the expert group, investment now would prevent tens of millions of new infections while extending the lives of additional millions of people already living with HIV.
"The world does not need to make a choice as to whether to care for AIDS patients or prevent the spread of HIV," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "The two are complementary and work in tandem -- this is not an either/or situation."
The expert group was convened by UNAIDS, the International AIDS Society, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and met with the UNAIDS Cosponsors -- UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNDCP, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank -- government representatives, and medical, behavioural and policy experts worldwide.
At the close of the meeting, the experts issued a declaration calling on leaders to take advantage of the UN Special Session on AIDS in New York from 25-27 June to mobilize funds and commitment to halt the spread of the epidemic.
"AIDS is a crisis of unprecedented proportions," the declaration warned. "It is the most devastating pandemic in human history. But the world is not powerless to respond. We now have an historic opportunity to commit the political will and the billions of dollars required to change the course of the epidemic."
This article was provided by UNAIDS. Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.