24 January 2000
WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL OUTLINES THREE-PRONGED ATTACK AGAINST AIDS EPIDEMIC
AIDS is the "most dramatic" of the world's health problems and calls for "unprecedented responses" from the world community, Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said at the opening of the World health Organization's 105th Executive Board meeting, this morning.
"HIV/AIDS has never been higher on the international agenda: as a development issue but also as a crisis at the top of the world's security attention as reflected by the unique discussion in the UN Security Council. We must capitalise on the momentum provided by this renewed international attention,"Dr Brundtland told the 32 men and women strong Board.
WHO's Executive Board meets twice a year and is – in addition to the World Health Assembly – the Organization's governing body.
Dr Brundtland singled out the HIV/AIDS because it is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, and because it threatens to become a devastating problem for other areas of the world, especially the Indian sub-continent.
"The number of people in the Newly Independent States living with HIV/AIDS has doubled in the last two years," she warned. "In Asia more than 6 million people are infected. If the epidemic is not controlled in the Indian Sub-Continent, the consequences for that region will be truly appalling."
Despite the unfolding tragedy, Dr Brundtland said there is no reason to despair. "We are not powerless," she said. "We must learn lessons from those countries where infection rates are falling such as in Uganda and Thailand – countries that have shown how strong political leadership, an openness to confront sensitive issues, and a multi-sectoral response which links efforts across government and civil society, can start to turn the tide."
She said WHO will focus on three aspect of the epidemic: care for the more than 30 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS; reduction in mother-to-child transmission; and access to HIV/AIDS-related drugs.
She pointed to how treatment in developed countries has led to a dramatic fall in deaths due to AIDS, while in Africa, many people have no access to palliative medicines, let alone anti-retroviral therapies or drugs for treating opportunistic infections.
"The drugs are in the North and the disease is in the South. This kind of inequity cannot continue," Dr Brundtland insisted.
With UNAIDS and other partners, WHO is working to make HIV drugs more affordable. The Organization is working with others to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry on the cost of individual drugs and different approaches to drug pricing.
"Where appropriate we support the promoting of generic competition and bulk purchasing," Dr Brundtland said. "We are including priority HIV drugs in the regular revisions of the WHO Model Essential Drug List and we are monitoring the positive effects of growing competition in the market for anti-retrovirals."
In her speech, Dr Brundtland also said that reducing poverty would be an overriding aim of WHO's work.
"Investing in health to reduce poverty could provide the kind of sharp, focused message we need to mobilize resources and the attention of the international community," she told the Board.
Dr Brundtland said WHO over the past year had completed its task to create a corporate strategy and that this process had lead to a new priority setting for the Organization.
She highlighted nine priority areas in the 2002-2003 which is being drafted over the next few months. These include improving health systems; fighting Malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB; curbing the tobacco epidemic; improving Maternal health; campaigning for safe blood; preventing and improving treatment of mental disorders; working to reduce cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases; improving food safety; and investing in change in WHO.
Dr A.J.M. Sulaiman, Director-General of Health Affairs of the Ministry of Health of Oman, is chairing the current session, which is scheduled to last until January 29.
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