AIDS Conference Campaigns For International Focus, Funding and ResearchPublished on 19 July 2010 @ 4:26 pm
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch
The 18th International AIDS conference opened its doors in Vienna on Sunday with a purpose of keeping the HIV issue high among international priorities in the context of a global economic crisis, and to promote universal access to treatment.
The biennial conference held from 18-23 July is host to a myriad of events covering a variety of issues such as new drugs and therapies, universal access, the human rights dimension of the epidemic, including stigma and discrimination, but also the impact of intellectual property rights on access to treatment with several sessions on anti-counterfeiting measures, generic medicines and compulsory licences.
Today a joint analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) showed overall support for global AIDS efforts from donor nations “flattened in the midst of last year’s global economic crisis,” with the Group of Eight industrialised nations, European Commission and other donor governments providing US$ 6.7 billion for AIDS relief in developing countries in 2009, compared with the US$7.7 billion they donated in 2008.
The host city, Vienna, has been chosen for providing a “unique bridge to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a region with one of the fastest growing epidemics in the world,” according to the conference. An estimated 20,000 participants from more than 185 countries are attending the conference entitled “Rights Here, Right Now,” according to a conference press release.
An official declaration on illicit drug policies was also launched in the lead-up to the opening of the conference. The Vienna Declaration launched on 28 June by the International AIDS Society, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, calls for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies.
[Update: On Tuesday, 20 July, a group of public interest organisations, including the American University Law School Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, filed a complaint alleging that US trade policy under the Obama administration violates international human rights obligations. The complaint was filed with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, and targets specific demands placed on developing countries listed in the annual US "Special 301" program that puts countries on notice of unilateral trade sanctions if they do not comply with US demands.]
For Médecins Sans Frontières, despite the fact that over the last decade antiretroviral treatment has reached millions of people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries thanks to “a massive mobilisation of resources and political will,” there is an “alarming backtracking” as donors have started to shift away from HIV/AIDS. MSF issued a document called “The Ten Consequences of AIDS Treatment Delayed, Deferred, or Denied” [pdf].
Health Action International (HAI), which gave a presentation on 18 July on the inappropriateness of IP enforcement framework such as anti counterfeiting measures with the developments of the much-debated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and the World Health Organization International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce to tackle safety issues, is also concerned about funding issues. About the desired outcome of the conference, Sophie Bloemen, projects officer at HAI, said “HAI expect that even more people will be cognizant of the fact that there really should be no retreat from funding AIDS treatment now, and we hope that policy makers will get the message that broken promises kill.”
The conference is organised by the International AIDS Society in partnership with a number of international bodies, such as UNAIDS, WHO, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and local and regional partners including the city of Vienna, and the European Commission.
On 13 July in Geneva, UNAIDS launched the second edition of its Outlook report, focusing on a simplified HIV treatment platform called “Treatment 2.0,” and calling for more innovation and sustained investments.
Treatment 2.0 is calling for a new medication with less toxicity and for easier-to-use diagnostics. It also stresses the importance of prevention and diagnostics, the need to reduce prices, and encourages community mobilisation.
Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS and under secretary-general of the United Nations, said in a 13 July press conference that the donors’ response should not weaken.
Innovation is costly, said Sidibé, who to a question from Intellectual Property Watch about funding of research and development said, “We need to make sure that we bring the pharmaceutical industry to start reopening the debate about a new generation of treatment.”
Partners should also open a debate on the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and TRIPS-plus measures, he said.
He added that funder organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, the Global Fund, and UNITAID should start having a discussion on the next generation of AIDS drugs.
Treatment 2.0 is “a great opportunity to reopen the discussion by looking at what we have been able to achieve with TRIPS” and learn from the experience of 10 years of TRIPS implementation, Sidibé told Intellectual Property Watch.
William New contributed to this report.
Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com.