Brainstorming Session in Preparation for the High Level Segment on HIV/AIDS
On September 18, 2003, the Global Alliance for Women's Health (GAWH) and 11 African Missions to the United Nations - those of Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, and Zambia - sponsored a "Brainstorming Session in Preparation for the High Level Segment on HIV/AIDS: Experiences, Successes, Obstacles, and Solutions; An Exchange between Member States and the Private Sector."
The moderator, Dr. Elaine Wolfson, GAWH president, referred to the session as an Auberge Espagnole, where all bring something to the table. The exchange between representatives of the African states and those from the private sector pharmaceutical companies - Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Inc. and Pfizer - revealed the human and economic devastation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa as well as the problems and progress experienced in coping with it.
The session led off with statements of the two co-chairs, Ambassador Ousmane Moutari of Niger and Ambassador Isaac C. Lamba of Malawi. Ambassador Moutari lauded the GAWH for sponsoring this and previous meetings regarding HIV/AIDS. The events, he said, encouraged direct interaction between the public/private sector members working on the ground who are directly involved in the fight. He also stressed that this brainstorming session would further that exchange and provide updates on relevant activities.
mbassador Lamba focused mainly on the issue of HIV/AIDS orphans. A small country with a population of 12 million, Malawi has an infection rate is 16%. There are 700,000-plus orphans as a result of the disease and their number is expected to grow by 70,000 annually. He called this a "horrendous situation." To help implement the national policies concerning orphans that his country has formulated, Ambassador Lamba called for the involvement of the international community.
Ways to accelerate access to HIV drugs, care and treatment proved a predominant theme of the session. Dr. Didier Delavelle of Boehringer Ingelheim cited his company's experience. It became clear, he said, that capacity building was the most important challenge. While companies can supply drugs, the delivery requirements could only be met through partnering with qualified institutions. As examples, he cited his company's collaboration with the French Red Cross in Congo and with African Synergies in Guinea.
Mr. Don Creighton of Pfizer spoke to Pfizer's sponsorship of the Diflucan Partnership Program through which product is now donated to 16 African countries and Haiti, and is due to expand to 22 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Asia. He cited the importance of partnering with global non-profit organizations in the current programs and partnership was the way to effect expansion to more countries.
Mr. Conrad Person of Johnson & Johnson mentioned his company's partnership with GAWH and Burkina Faso as a means to effect rapid distribution of product as well as with other groups such as Project Hope in Malawi and MEDS in Kenya. An example would be a program in Kenya that does not give away donated products free. Instead, it charges a small amount and uses those monies to support other community health projects.
Ms. Rihanna Kola of Merck & Co., Inc. related her company's current experiences and programs in relation to HIV/AIDS, particularly that with the African Comprehensive HIV Partnership in Botswana. There, Merck, the government and the Gates Foundation are working together and in the process are able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their efforts to improve HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
Recommendations and concerns:
- Strengthening the infrastructure in the countries affected by the pandemic to enable them to utilize the money, medicine and other resources available to them.
- Acknowledging and addressing the spread of the pandemic to the Caribbean, which is second only to Sub-Saharan Africa in incidence and mortality from HIV/AIDS.
- Stressing the importance of good nutrition to the populations most affected.
- Emphasizing the need to bring synergy and creativity to dealing with the human suffering as well as with the economics issues, the social issues, and the cultural issues involved.
- Recognizing the pervasive effects of the drought experienced by many countries year after years.
The difficulties and responsibilities of governments were explored. And while representatives from a number of governments said they, themselves, were working to address shortcomings, they called for more outside assistance. Pharmaceutical companies were asked to expand their programs and, if possible, to develop a model, based on their experiences, that could be replicated in countries struggling to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS.
The private sector is composed of profit-making companies that cannot be expected to expand their efforts without limit, said Ambassador Moutari. He asked the pharmaceutical company representatives present what, in their view, governments could do to be of more assistance to them.
- To Merck, building long-term relationships with governments could mean more effective utilization of its assistance.
- To Johnson & Johnson, it is vital to engender sustainability in the programs it supports.
Partnerships with governments and NGOs have been vital to pharmaceutical companies because they do not donate their products directly to individuals. Their first step is to identify organizations or government entities that can make sure the items are getting to the appropriate individuals. If they are to expand their programs, they feel that bilateral and multilateral collaborations would be helpful.
The problems stemming from the HIV/AIDS pandemic are so huge the resources of governments, civil societies, and the private sector have proved inadequate to resolving them on a large scale. Among the suggestions presented: expand the contributions to affected countries by the Global Fund and coordinate public/private efforts to expand infrastructure and increase personnel training. Above all, a public health strategy has to be adopted more widely.
In Ambassador Lamba's view, money, alone, will not be effective unless the physical infrastructure and the trained personnel exist to implement plans. Training for capacity building is vital, and donors should coordinate their efforts.
The brainstorming session ended with the realization that the issues explored today have to be brought to the September 22nd meeting for UN member states discussion, and it is hoped that they are made the focus of documents drafted then.