ECOSOC Adopts Resolutions On Digital Divide, HIV/AIDS, But Hurdles Remain 29/07/2009 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this week is concluding a month-long coordinating body meeting in Geneva by adopting resolutions on a range of public policy issues such as internet connectivity, science and technology, and HIV/AIDS. On 24 July, the Council adopted resolutions on informatics, science and technology for development, and on support to governments in addressing the spread and prevention of Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). However, the digital divide and the lack of global access to AIDS treatments seriously hinder developing countries’ prospects for development, participants say. Speakers at the Council’s General Segment, taking place from 23 to 30 July, underlined the importance of information and communications technologies (ICTs) as well as science and engineering in the context of development and in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, according to an unofficial report. However, the digital divide, which refers to the difference between countries in accessing information technology, is still a concern for many developing countries. ECOSOC recommended mainstream ICTs to promote growth and sustainable development as it adopted, without a vote, a resolution on the assessment of the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and its follow-up. The Council asked its stakeholders to assist developing countries to reduce the digital divide. According to the unofficial report, Mohammend Al-Humaimidi of Iraq said that ICTs could “play an important role in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which included basic principles and guidelines to combat illiteracy.” Alexander Betrov of Russia added that the “Commission on Science and Technology was a unique body for the exchange or scientific learning.” The UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development gives advice on science and technology issues to ECOSOC, to which it is a subsidiary body (IPW, Development, 8 June 2009). “The European Union recognised the importance of information and communication technology for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, in particular the Millennium Development Goals,” said Bengt Gunnar Herrstrom of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union. Delegates: Internet Needs to be Higher on Agenda However, according to Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil, the issue of the internet might not have received the attention it deserved, according to the unofficial report. The Office of the Secretary-General “was particularly slow in addressing the issue of enhanced cooperation on public policy pertaining to the internet,” he said. Patriota referred to the Internet Governance Forum, a UN structure supporting the UN Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from WSIS. “The report of the Secretary-General did not do justice to the issue of the internet, and there should have been a better response from the top level of the United Nations in this context,” Patriota said. Yasser Hassan of Egypt also said that in the context of WSIS, the summit asked the secretary-general to begin the process by 2006, while the “only tangible step” was taken in March 2008, when the secretary-general asked organisations to detail the steps undertaken concerning enhanced cooperation. Hassan said that the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General for Internet Governance had carried out bilateral negotiations on enhanced cooperation without issuing details, or without announcing the negotiations before their taking place. However, he said, the gathered information was an important contribution. Science and engineering were also presented as drivers for economic growth by speakers, and the Council adopted, without a vote, a resolution on science and technology for development. Among the recommendations, as stated by the report, the Council asked that governments: mainstream science and technology in their national development plans; and formulate and implement policies and programmes to strengthen science and mathematics education. The Council also called on governments to expand opportunities for science, technology and engineering education and research for their population – especially women – and particularly in the emerging technologies. And governments should develop mechanisms, including innovative solutions for expanding rural power supply and the provision of broadband access to poor communities in rural areas, for ensuring access to science, technology and engineering for all marginalised groups. HIV/AIDS Remains a Global Challenge The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other UN agencies were urged by the Council to strengthen their support to governments dealing with HIV/AIDS in a resolution also adopted on 24 July. The Council asked that governments promote access to safe and effective antiretroviral drugs, at affordable prices, provide support for research on new products to prevent HIV infection, and for donors, governments and stakeholders, to continue to provide financial and political support for research and development for an HIV vaccine. Nevertheless, antiretroviral drugs are still out of reach for many patients in developing countries, said speakers. The UNAIDS 2008 annual report states that progress has been made toward universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, according to Mohamed Faiz Bouchedoub of Algeria, who was reported to say the “persistent lack of global coverage continues to stand in the way of the treatment of the disease.” Governments should be wary of diminishing resources due to the financial crisis, he added. Furthermore, “pharmaceutical laboratories were setting prices with a view to maximising income” and countries could not afford triple therapy. “There is a need for a people-first response to the pandemic, not a profit-led response,” said Patriota. He also said that “Brazil was happy to hear that the representative of UNAIDS mentioned that the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities would be considered in conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization, among others, and this should be taken in light of the agreements made through the World Health Organization.” UNAIDS advocates the removal of socioeconomic and legal barriers, and the maximum use of flexibilities under TRIPS, according to their website, as part of the UNAIDS Outcome Framework. Referring to a global debate about some countries’ detention of shipments of legitimate generic pharmaceuticals passing through Europe on their way to developing countries, Patriota said that “access to life-saving medicines, including generic medicines, should not be unduly blocked by transit countries.” (IPW, Public Health, 13 March 2009) Negotiations on the HIV/AIDS resolution at ECOSOC were led by the delegation of the Netherlands, according to the UNAIDS website, in its capacity as vice-chair of the UNAIDS programme coordinating board and ECOSOC member. Susanna Terstal of the Netherlands introducing the resolution on UNAIDS, said the AIDS pandemic continued to be one of the biggest challenges to development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. 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