AIDS Summit Draws Vatican´s Proposals

Three-Day Meeting Opens at United Nations

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NEW YORK, JUNE 25, 2001 ( Will it all end in words or will there be concrete steps taken in the struggle against AIDS?

This is the question that will be addressed at a three-day summit of the U.N. General Assembly, which began today.

Some 180 countries are participating, together with representatives of private enterprises and directors of the U.N. Agency Against AIDS (UNAIDS). John Paul II has addressed a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the summit.

According to UNAIDS, over the past two decades AIDS has claimed 22 million lives. Now, 36 million people — two-thirds of them in Africa — have the disease or are seropositive. Every day, 15,000 people are infected, the agency said.

Developing countries are spending $1.8 billion a year on treatments and prevention, while the United States spends $20 billion.

Last week the review Science published a study, carried out with UNAIDS, which showed it would be necessary to spend $9.2 billion a year in developing countries to halt the epidemic.

Secretary-General Annan had launched a global trust fund to collect $7 billion to $10 billion annually to fight AIDS and other diseases. To date, $528 million has been pledged, including $200 from the United States.

The purpose of the AIDS summit is twofold: to mobilize the international community once again in face of the epidemic, and to solicit donations for the fund.

The most complicated issue may be the writing of the meeting´s final report. The draft document on HIV/AIDS includes the phrase «reproductive health services» several times, which implies abortion, as explained in mid-June, during the U.N. preparatory session for the Special Summit on Children.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, is representing the Vatican at the AIDS summit.

The archbishop will offer 12 proposals to the assembly for the struggle against AIDS, including education, prevention, coordination of all governments worldwide, care of the sick, and the problem of medications

Last week at the United Nations in Geneva, the Vatican called for mechanisms that will enable the pharmaceutical industry to offer medicines affordable to poor countries.

During the meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of the World Trade Organization, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Vatican permanent observer to the WTO, gave all the members of the meeting a Vatican document presenting the petition.

The Vatican´s proposal, or note, was made in response to the «dramatic magnitude» of sicknesses that are decimating poor countries, such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Poor countries at times cannot afford the medical treatments available to combat the diseases, the note stated.

The Vatican recognized that «the high price of new drugs seems to be determined (in part) by the burden of research and development.» But it added that it is «not possible ethically to justify a rationale of fixing the highest possible prices in order to attract investors and to maintain and strengthen research, while leaving aside consideration of fundamental social factors.»

«Within an open free trade system, Intellectual Property rights constitute an exceptional monopoly regime,» the Vatican note commented. Abuses by such monopolies for reasons of profit must be curbed, it stated. Within the framework of human rights, it added, there must be recognition of each person´s right to health.

The note recommended that «in the case of medicines, the supply stakeholders (scientific institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and the governments of developed countries) should work together to ensure an adequate supply of urgently needed drugs at prices adequate to the cost of living in a particular country, especially LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and HIPCs (Heavily Indebted Poorest Countries). They should also be open and flexible in an equitable manner to the granting of voluntary licenses for import, production and distribution of basic drugs. They should not create obstacles to national production of drugs in third countries.»

The note also suggested that «the enactment of an innovative differential pricing system» wherein «luxury and nonessential pharmaceutical products, for example cosmetics, could well share a greater part of the burden of research and development of essential medicines.»

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