PRESS CONFERENCE BY BRAZIL ON HIV/AIDS
The Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS in June would be the primary opportunity to establish a global agreement on HIV/AIDS, particularly in developing countries, Dr. Paulo Roberto Teixeira, Director-General of the Brazilian programme for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases told correspondents this morning at a Headquarters press conference.
His country, after discussions with non-governmental organizations and other institutions, had concerns about a proposal for the Session’s final declaration, particularly a paragraph saying that the main strategy for HIV control was prevention. In his country’s opinion, in order to have an impact on the AIDS pandemic at present it was vital to maintain the link between prevention and treatment, including access to anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. It was impossible to mobilize communities, institutions, families and HIV affected people if they were not provided with the necessary support for treatment.
Concerning prevention, more clarity at the moment was needed about strategies towards vulnerable groups: men having sex with other men; drug users; and inmates. Commitments on investments in vaccine development also needed clarification. Vaccines were the best long-term solution for the AIDS pandemic, particularly for developing countries. In the text, investments in vaccines were not proportional to investments in treatment.
The Brazilian Government would present a proposal for a global strategy, including some kind of task force or international committee based at United Nations Headquarters, that would coordinate global agreements and address questions about access to ARV drugs and treatment. Such a global agreement would include an international fund for providing drugs in developing and poor countries. The country’s proposal on ARV drugs would also include differential pricing. The task force, or other mechanism, would include all the main actors, including non-governmental organizations, government representatives, drug companies and United Nations agencies.
Brazil was very surprised to hear yesterday’s statement from the United States Trade Representative, saying that the Brazilian position on patents was not related to Brazilian ARV drug policy. The statement apparently implied that Brazil was using its AIDS policy to justify national interests that did not fall under agreements on patents and trade. The United States statement referred to some good AIDS programmes in the world, such as in Thailand, Senegal and Uganda -- excluding Brazil. Apparently, those countries had been mentioned because they had made good progress in the area of prevention, but had not included access to ARV drugs in their policies. The Brazilian Mission had a statement from the Ministry of Health protesting the United States Representative’s declaration.
The United States Trade Representative’s statement was a clear change in that country’s position, he said in response to a correspondent’s question. Brazil could not accept that all questions about HIV strategies and policies must fall under the consideration of global trade and patent agreements. HIV/AIDS was a social and health problem.
The issue of prevention and treatment in the proposed final document of the Special Session was not described in a balanced way. The Brazilian experience in ARV drug treatment was the main contribution his country could offer the international community. The policy had been started 10 years ago and had been criticized by international institutions and developed countries, because, according to them, too much money was spent in treatment, while prevention should be the priority. During the last three years, it had become clear that the policy had resulted in lower mortality rates, among other things, and that the cost-benefit ratio was positive. But, most of all, the quality of life for HIV affected people had increased dramatically.
The Brazilian experience was used as an example in several Latin American countries, and Brazil was cooperating with African countries as well, he said, in response to questions. Its main strategy was a combination of prevention, care and a human rights approach. Brazil produced generic ARV drugs only for domestic use, and that production covered 50 per cent of the national needs. It had no intention to export them. It was up to each country to acquire its own ARV drugs. Brazil was, however, willing to transfer technology to other countries.
His Government had hoped that after all the international publicity, the United States would be willing to negotiate about its complaint with the World Trade Organization, which charged Brazil with violating the patent rights of big drug companies. After yesterday’s statement by the United States Trade Representative, the situation had changed. The statement had come as a big surprise, he said.
Over the last ten years, two arguments had been used against providing ARV drugs to developing and poor countries: prevention was more effective; and there was no structure in place to provide care. Brazil’s experience had shown that those arguments were false. Brazil had provided care and access to marginalized people in very poor areas and slums. Moreover, there was an international consensus to treat tuberculosis and malaria as well. The same structure had to be put in place for treatment of those diseases.
In response to a question, he said the matter was of such importance to Brazil because it had to spent a lot of time in negotiations, and that time could have been better spent on planning and action.
* *** *