PRESS CONFERENCE ON EUROPEAN 'HOSPITAL SOLIDARITY' INITIATIVE
"We are all in favour of development, we are all in favour of prevention, we are also in favour of information -- but our national experience has shown us that where AIDS is concerned, prevention is not enough, and that without treatment, all initiatives are powerless", French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner told a Headquarters press conference this morning. Mr. Kouchner was introducing a project for “hospital solidarity” in the fight against AIDS, which five members of the European Union -- France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain -- propose to offer as a contribution to the struggle against HIV/AIDS. Their goal is to promote the implementation of concrete solutions and, as Mr. Kouchner put it, "to make a historic difference" in the field of access to care.
Charles Josselin, French Minister for Cooperation and Francophonie, opened the conference with an outline of his country's overseas cooperation policy in the context of the war against AIDS. It was in the early 1980s that France launched its first aid programmes, aimed at identification and prevention in the countries of the South. Today, France directly earmarked more than a quarter of the
500 million francs it spends on health for the campaign against AIDS, focusing on expanding access to care, on preventing mother-to-infant HIV transmission, on the price of drugs, and on the legal aspects of property rights. All these questions, he said, would be scrutinized during the current special Assembly session on HIV/AIDS. They would also be discussed at the United Nations-sponsored conference France will organize in Dakar, Senegal, from 30 November to 1 December 2001, with the aim of fostering deeper exchanges among States, NGOs and pharmaceutical companies and ensuring that "the sick will not see that the means exist -- but that there is nothing for them".
Based on the national experiences of the five countries, all of which have instituted policies for retroviral care, the project seeks to pool common knowledge in the search for solutions to the AIDS crisis, said Celia Villalobos, Health Minister of Spain. "The health and hospital systems of the five countries have made it possible to control the disease, and today they are offering to put those systems at the service of developing nations at grips with AIDS", she said. In concrete terms, the project will involve the provision not only of medical specialists, but also of knowledge and experience to the hospitals of such countries. The experts will train local teams to take over from them, and equip them to distribute drugs in an effective and responsible way, and in good sanitary and hygienic conditions. "In effect, what these five countries are offering is the fullest possible cooperation designed to give patients an immediate response to their suffering." Ms. Villalobos added that the project would be launched in a spirit of total respect for the national health plans and programmes of each country with which an agreement is signed.
Italy's Director General of Cooperation for Development, Giandomenico Magliano, stressed that the project would represent a synergy among programmes of prevention, education, training, research and treatment. "They all reinforce one another mutually, and all partake of the same single strategy." The hospital solidarity programme will thus help elaborate made-to-measure policies in function of each country's specific needs, in a first phase in Africa and later in other regions of the world.
Charles Goerens, Luxembourg's Minister for Cooperation and Humanitarian Action, added that the project was "a concrete action based on identification of problems". In his opinion, this kind of initiative was a prerequisite for the efficient channeling of the resources expected for the fight against AIDS. "Without such action there can be no precise, judicious apportionment of donated funds", he said. He added that every dimension of the proposed partnership will be significant, starting with the dimension of intergovernmental cooperation, for there was no question of imposing anything on partner countries. It will also represent a fruitful partnership, and one which should be encouraged between medical teams. The initiative, which will also draw on the experience of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society, will "send a strong signal to the weak". Jose Miguel Boquinhas, Portugal's Secretary of State for Health, also stressed the benefits he expected to flow from his country's close relations with Portuguese-speaking African countries.
To a correspondent who asked where "the other ten" countries of the European Union stood on the project, Mr. Kouchner said that two other Union States would shortly be joining it. He hoped that others would follow their example. To questions on the project budget, he said total costs would depend on the number of HIV cases presented by host countries. This "hospital twinning" initiative, as he called it, could be up and running by the end of the year or very early next year. "We already plan thirty twinning operations, and a further thirty are expected to follow." Mr. Kouchner emphasized that the project was one that would go only to countries that requested it, that it was a medical project which would be politically guided by the countries in which it operated -- and that it would in no way be a "return to colonialism."
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