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UK unveils plan to fight HIV/AIDS

Doubling research and development (R&D) spending on HIV/AIDS would bring forward the discovery of an AIDS vaccine by three years and save millions of lives, says UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. Speaking in Tanzania, Mr Brown called upon western nations to commit...

Doubling research and development (R&D) spending on HIV/AIDS would bring forward the discovery of an AIDS vaccine by three years and save millions of lives, says UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. Speaking in Tanzania, Mr Brown called upon western nations to commit to increasing funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS to ten billion dollars (7.6 billion euro) a year to coordinate an international system. The system would ensure that breakthroughs made by scientists 'can be shared more widely' and make certain that the countries most affected by the pandemic can make investments in sex education and hospitals, and purchase antiretroviral drugs. 'A way forward cannot involve one initiative in isolation but requires us to focus on prevention, cure, treatment, capacity building and anti-poverty strategies. Investment in all these must move together. And tackling HIV/AIDS in developing countries requires us to bring all our resources to bear,' said Mr Brown. Mr Brown explained that only 75 million dollars (57.2 million euro) is being spent each year on research into an AIDS vaccine, despite the disease's prevalence. 'This is not nearly enough faced with complex scientific challenges,' Mr Brown said. 'It is generally recognised that the sums of money required involve at least a doubling of money for AIDS research. If we just keep spending at the current level, we could expect to have a partially effective vaccine for the developing world - one which could save 40 million lives - only by 2015 at best or more likely 2020, 15 years from now.' According to Mr Brown, doubling R&D spending would bring forward the discovery of an AIDS vaccine by three years, cut the costs of treatment by 1.5 billion euro a year and save a further six million lives. Mr Brown's plan suggests the setting up of a new international platform for research into HIV/AIDS similar to the one established for the human genome project. The UK minister is set to discuss the proposal at a seminar with his Italian counterpart in London in February. The Italian Finance Minister, Domenico Siniscalco, has already announced he will draw up proposals on research coordination for next month's meeting of the Group of Seven industrialised countries (G7). Mr Siniscalco will also be looking at how the public and private sectors could work together to develop drugs, vaccines and other technologies. Pharmaceutical companies have already been approached, said Mr Brown. Mr Brown lamented the fact that currently the private sector is only spending 86 million euro a year on HIV/AIDS research. The market needs boosting, said the minister. Mr Brown has therefore proposed developing a commercial market for HIV/AIDS vaccines in a novel way. His plan is to encourage pharmaceutical companies to speed up vaccine research by securing pledges for western countries to purchase vaccine doses on behalf of African governments. Mr Brown envisages the most industrialised nations committing themselves to buying the first 300 million vaccines at a cost of 15 euro each, thus setting up a 4.5 billion euro guarantee for a future market. This would be 'a large enough inducement to create a much stronger interest from both large and small pharmaceutical firms,' said Mr Brown. Reacting to Mr Brown's plan, AIDS charity Actionaid criticised the minister's preoccupation with finding a vaccine. 'While encouraging the pharmaceutical industry to discover an HIV vaccine is important, a failure to provide any funding for HIV treatments condemns a generation of people to death,' said Simon Wright of the UK branch. 'HIV is decimating African countries, killing the most productive adults who should be working, caring for children and building the economy. An HIV vaccine is probably at least ten years away. Treatments are needed now.' Mr Brown has also asked counties to increase pledges to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria 'by billions of dollars'.

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