PRESS CONFERENCE BY JOINT UNITED NATIONS PROGRAMME ON HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
Given the $30 trillion global gross domestic product, there was plenty of money for the Global Fund to fight HIV-AIDS if it were made a priority, James Wolfensohn, World Bank President, told a correspondent this afternoon when asked if $10 billion was sufficient or too little to fight AIDS. He was asked the question during a Headquarters press conference by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and its co-sponsoring organizations.
Also taking part in the press conference were Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO), and Gudmund Hernes, Director of the International Institute for Educational Planning of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Anne Winter, the UNAIDS Director of Public Information, also took part.
Continuing with his views on the funds needed to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Mr. Wolfensohn said that, worldwide, perhaps $2 billion was being spent to fight AIDS now. To make up the difference, people had to be convinced that fighting AIDS was not a matter of charity but of self-interest. They needed to see that AIDS wasn’t a problem for Africa alone, but a global problem. They needed to understand the new reality that if AIDS wasn't dealt with, it would affect every person in terms of earnings and health.
That awareness was building as a result of the special session, he said. The message was going from the United Nations out to health ministers and from them to country leaders. For poor countries, fighting AIDS came down to taking money away from education. For that reason, developed countries needed to see that helping the poor to fight AIDS was in their own self-interest.
Dr. Piot of UNAIDS said the activity at the United Nations this week would form the cornerstone for the future campaign against AIDS. Despite the controversy over wording in the declaration, it was a strong blueprint for critical achievement. It conveyed clear gender orientation. There was no polarization between prevention and treatment. Further, it emphasized the need for both adequate resources and the need to involve non-governmental actors in the battle against AIDS. Finally, the document recognized the importance of focusing on young people and recognized the code of conduct launched by the ILO.
The ILO's Mr. Somavia said the special session's declaration filled two gaps in the prior fight against AIDS. First, it made clear that issues associated with AIDS needed to be dealt with in all arenas, at every age, including in early school. Secondly, the document extended the responsibility for combatting AIDS into the workplace. The code was ILO's contribution to the declaration and its follow-up. It was a document people could take to work as an example of what was expected and what was possible to bring about.
UNESCO's Mr. Hernes said that all learning about AIDS could be summarized by stating as follows: the virus had been ahead of the disease, the disease had been ahead of the response, the response had created a disaster, and managing the disaster had been underfunded. The special session, however, had achieved a
document that clearly set out what could be accomplished. It also conveyed the awareness that actions would take funding.
There had been arguments about whether to emphasize funding for treatment or prevention. The treatment argument had three elements, including the humanitarian one on not just letting people die, the economic one related to workforce loss, and third, the prevention argument itself, that your situation only got worse when you were tested and found to have AIDS. AIDS, however, is not an immediately contagious disease like the flu. That was one reason for its rapid spread, but it also provided the opportunity for preventive education to work. Preventive education was UNESCO's focus.
Expanding on funding for the AIDS campaign, Dr. Piot said $2 billion was already being spent on AIDS treatment. Additional monies could come from developed countries, debt relief, regular bilateral and multilateral channels and, of course, the Fund. Mr. Wolfensohn gave a summary of World Bank assistance in the area of HIV/AIDS programmes, including those undertaken jointly with UNAIDS and with individual countries. He also said the Bank was imminently providing more aid, and that it was ready to help with the Global Fund as long as aspects of the Fund were clarified.
Asked about the oversight of the Fund, Dr. Piot said a strong evaluation component would be built into the Fund. Overheads would be absolutely minimal, and the Fund would support existing programmes and plans in countries rather than coming up with new plans. However, proper management of the Fund also required institutional changes on the part of governments in terms of giving the Fund the leeway to disperse the money as needed.
Regarding the declaration itself, Dr. Piot said in response to questions that the document would be used to measure progress and to guide follow-up in specific situations. Was it sufficiently finished? another correspondent asked. How could UNESCO base its largest educational campaign even on a document in which wording itself had been the biggest stumbling block? Mr. Hernes said there had been enough agreement despite differences to make a strongly workable declaration. The issues at argument were contentious everywhere, including his country, Norway. The real usefulness of the declaration was that it would change attitudes and policies quickly because it would be a united effort.
How much of a basis was there for believing that the momentum of the session could be translated into actions on the ground? Why wouldn't the Fund break down in the usual arguing over who got how much and whether the drug companies were getting too much?
Dr. Piot said the question of who got what would not arise because the declaration and the debates behind it had been explicit. The concepts had not been covered in "diplomatese." Governments and civil society would use the labour code to implement changes. However, he added, the momentum had to be continued by everyone. That would happen because the alternative was death for young people. Still, the top leaders of Asia, Eastern Europe and South America had been absent from the special session. The debate would continue with regard to both the declaration and the Fund. Discussion about distributing the Fund would be minimal if the point of entry was at the country level.
In response to other questions, Mr. Hernes said only a vaccine would stop the epidemic. Short of that, the goal was to have a decline in new infections of young people, which presumed that, once learned, safe sex would be continued. With regard to development of anti-retroviral drugs and generic competition to
bring down price, Dr. Piot said the declaration specifically called for measures that were most cost-saving.
Several speakers, including Dr. Wolfensohn, assured a correspondent about the strong emphasis put on reaching the grass roots. And, finally, Mr. Somavia said that an association with UNAIDS had been a way for the ILO to fill an AIDS vacuum in its own programmes.
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