26 June 2001


Press Briefing


Médecins sans Frontières -- Doctors without Borders –- stressed the importance of preventive efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.  The conference was part of a number of special events being held in connection with the General Assembly special session on AIDS.

In a press statement, the organization said discussion about treatment for the 34 million people already infected with HIV in developing countries was not being given priority by delegates to the special session.

“People are reluctant to find out their HIV status when a positive result means nothing more than a death sentence.  By providing treatment, governments can help break the intense stigmatization and fear of the disease.”  They also said prevention and treatment mutually reinforced each other and must be part of a comprehensive solution to fighting the disease.

“Clearly, so far, the soaring number of people infected with the virus, especially in the developing world, tell us that prevention activities have definitely been inadequate”, said Dr. Anne-Valerie Kaninda, Medical Adviser to the organization’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign.

Dr. Kaninda said it was totally unacceptable that millions in the developing world did not have access to adequate treatment. It was a medical imperative that they should have such access; she added that “basic medical ethics tell us that we have to provide treatment to these people”.

Also present at the briefing were Dr. Rose Mougnutou of Cameroon, Dr. Bernard Pecoul, Director of the Médecins sans Frontières Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, and Daniel Berman, Coordinator of the Campaign.

Dr. Kaninda said people needed incentives to be tested -- and the incentive was treatment.  She expressed disappointment that certain countries, such as South Africa, which could now access much cheaper drugs, were not moving forward on the issue of treatment.

Mr. Berman said the organization had a mother-to-child transmission programme at a town near Cape Town in South Africa.  Their experience there had given them a clear idea of the link between treatment and prevention.  ”When you offer mothers a chance to stop the transmission to their newborn, they look out for the possibilities of anonymous testing.  They look out to know their status.”

Dr. Mougnutou, a physician from Cameroon, spoke about her experiences in administering anti-retroviral treatment to HIV/AIDS patients in the Médecins sans Frontières programme in her country.  Seventeen patients under her care, in a project sponsored by Médecins sans Frontières and local non-governmental organizations, were doing very well, she said.  The project was in the context of a national one, and 1,000 had been provided treatment in the first year at three

sites in the country.  The patients paid the equivalent of $100 a month, which was very expensive by their standards.  Efforts were being made to lower the cost of follow-up visits.

Responding to questions, Mr. Berman said the task was to show countries what was possible, but Médecins sans Frontières could not take the place of a State.  Their impact was very limited if national governments did not step up their involvement in efforts to combat the epidemic.  Research was critical as treatment, especially monitoring, needed to be simplified.

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For information media. Not an official record.