“It is difficult for a single UN agency like WHO, with a budget the size of two country hospitals in England, to create global change,” says Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and now director general of the World Health Organisation. “We work with partners and alliances. We create guidelines for treatment of patients with AIDS. We try and move health knowledge.”
Brundtland said that WHO’s attempts to get pharmaceutical companies to drop drug prices, and the compilation of an essential drugs list, had proved primary impetus to assist civil society and the South African government, as examples, win major concessions from drug companies that led to lower prices a year ago.
“We gave anger ammunition. I addressed the executive of WHO two and a half years ago and said that patients in poor countries should not be left behind. When I said that, it caused a shock wave. The general sentiment at that time was prevention, prevention, prevention. I saw that we could not ask people to test without treatment. It was kind of revolutionary.
“At that time AIDS drugs cost US$1,500 per person per month, and we worked hard to push prices down. Within six months we got prices down to 7%, and then we began discussions about a Global Fund for prevention and therapy.
“We need a sequence of simple diagnostics working to develop new medicines and lower prices. If we can simplify diagnostics, we can get broader treatment access. It is not enough for us to say people should: we have to show how, and we are doing that. We are showing them how to scale up. This helps countries that are big purchases to get the lowest prices.”
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The goal of getting three million people under antiretroviral treatment in developing countries by 2005 is feasible, Brundtland says. “It can be done, but not without a broad partnership with civil based society groups. We are better off because of WHO, because of activists, because of feminists, governments.
“We also have to scale up prevention for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, we have to reach more people and save them. “We have to do it with people in every community, every village. Infectious disease is the work of poverty.
AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team