The United Nations Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa has questioned the results of the recent G8 Summit when it came to addressing the AIDS pandemic and he has called for the creation of an international women’s agency.
“First, I would argue that the G8 Summit was not a breakthrough; it was in fact a disappointment. I would argue that we got caught up in music, and the spectacle, and the spin and the celebrities, and we applauded before applause was justified,” UN Envoy Stephen Lewis, said at the opening of the 3rd International AIDS Society Conference in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
He said that while the cancellation of multilateral debt for 18 countries – 14 in Africa – was a start, Africa still carried the “insurmountable burden” of over $200 billion of debt that crippled the battle against poverty and the pandemic. The G8 offered only “sonorous words” about agricultural subsidies, which tend to keep produce from developing countries out of the markets of richer nations. And in the case of foreign aid, although official development assistance (ODA) to Africa was doubled by the world’s wealthiest nations in principle, there was an “unblemished record of failure” between principle and delivery, Lewis said.
He also challenged scientists to engage in a campaign of advocacy while stressing the need to eliminate gender inequality in the fight against AIDS. “I feel I must say that the greatest single international failure in the response to HIV/AIDS is the failure to intervene, dramatically, on behalf of women.” he said, adding, “I urge you to press upon your governments that the time has come to make women the centrepiece of these reforms, and to promote, passionately, the creation of an international agency to take the lead.”
Separately, Dr. Charlie Gilks, the head of treatment of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) HIV/AIDS Department, told the conference that the scientific and public health community must respond quickly to developments on the ground to narrow the gap between discovery and intervention, if universal access to HIV prevention and treatment is to be achieved.
He also stressed the need to “learn by doing” and said the scientific community must be committed to applying the results of scientific studies quickly to AIDS programmes while they are being implemented.
Coming as close as possible to universal access to HIV treatment by 2010, a goal recently endorsed by G8 leaders at their annual meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, will require a significant new investment of resources and effort in research, Dr. Gilks said. He also cited new formulations of HIV drugs for children, and simpler tests to diagnose and monitor patients as major research priorities for scaling up treatment in resource-limited settings.
“This list of research questions is long,” Dr. Gilks said. “But if we are going to achieve universal access, we will need to invest in applied research and move new products and approaches quickly into the field.”
Dr. Gilks was confident that the scientific community could meet this challenge and that prospects for rewarding work in the field of HIV/AIDS had never been better. In no other field is the opportunity to translate evidence into action so great as they currently are in HIV/AIDS, he said, adding: “Not only can researchers have direct impact on policy and practice, they can reduce inequities by helping to make scientific advances available more quickly to the millions of people who need treatment.”
He also emphasized the importance of research on HIV prevention in addition to more effective ways to deliver treatment.