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AFRO-NETS> Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report - Wed, 23 May 2001



Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report - Wed, 23 May 2001
-----------------------------------------------

* Some Say Powell Trip to Africa Shows 'Commitment' to Continent,
  While Critics Find it Just 'For Show'
* Protestors Call for Increased Drug Access for Developing Nations at
  GlaxoSmithKline's Annual Meeting
* Despite 'Public Relations Beating', Pharmaceutical Companies Con-
  tinue to Thrive, American Spectator Reports
* African Growth and Opportunity Act Marks Progress in U.S.-African
  Relations, Zoellick Writes


--
Some Say Powell Trip to Africa Shows 'Commitment' to Continent, While 
Critics Find it Just 'For Show'

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Mali today, the first 
stop on his African tour that is "likely to be dominated by talk of 
AIDS," Reuters reports. U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State 
Nancy Powell said yesterday that Powell "wanted to examine the nature 
of the AIDS threat," adding that the visit also provides "a chance 
... to look at what both Africans and the U.S. government and other 
Americans are doing to combat the disease in Africa." State Depart-
ment officials said that Powell's tour, which takes him through Mali, 
Uganda, South Africa and Kenya, will also allow him to "find out 
first-hand" about the impact of HIV/AIDS on African nations. 

Praise and Criticism

Powell's tour has "challenged widespread assumptions that the world's 
poorest continent is not high on" President Bush's foreign policy 
agenda, Reuters reports (Diallo, Reuters, 5/23). Sheila Sisulu, South 
Africa's ambassador to the United States, said, "Given the doubts 
about the commitment of the administration to its engagement in Af-
rica, it's significant that within the first six months ... they are 
visiting [the continent]" (Douglas, Newsday, 5/23). Some AIDS advo-
cates also have supported Powell's move. Dr. Paul Zeitz, co-director 
of the Global AIDS Alliance, said, "We are pleased to see the secre-
tary of state traveling to Africa, and we hope the trip becomes an 
opportunity for him to hear from a broad range of voices about the 
AIDS catastrophe" as well as the burden of debt on those countries 
(GAA release, 5/22). However, some critics have said that Powell's 
trip is "all for show." George Ayittey, an economics professor at 
American University, said that the trip is a "symbolic" gesture aimed 
at "convinc[ing] African leaders and the African-American community 
that the Bush administration has not abandoned Africa" (Newsday, 
5/23). Zeitz added that his group is "concerned" that Powell "seems 
to bring little with him in terms of any new flexibility in U.S. pol-
icy on access to AIDS treatment, on deepening debt cancellation, or 
in terms of significant increases in U.S. financial assistance to the 
AIDS fight" (GAA release, 5/22).

Funding Still Under Fire 

Powell has said, however, that the Bush administration's priorities 
for Africa include providing "relief" to HIV-positive individuals 
(AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 5/23). Powell defended the Bush admini-
stration's decision to allocate $200 million toward a global HIV/AIDS 
fund, a contribution that critics say is "inadequate." Powell said, 
"I don't think America has anything to apologize for," adding that 
the funding was "seed money" and that "more would come later" (Raum, 
AP/Newsday, 5/23). The GAA likened the $200 million allocation to 
"putting a band-aid on cancer" (GAA release, 5/22). A New York Times 
editorial today states that although Powell's concern about HIV/AIDS 
in Africa is "entirely appropriate," the Bush administration's allo-
cation is "inadequate." The editorial notes that U.N. Secretary-
General Kofi Annan has stated that $7 billion to $10 billion is 
needed each year to combat the virus. "Surely the United States can 
afford to contribute a larger proportion of that total," the edito-
rial concludes (New York Times, 5/23).  


--
Protestors Call for Increased Drug Access for Developing Nations at 
GlaxoSmithKline's Annual Meeting

Protestors from Oxfam on Monday greeted shareholders at GlaxoSmith-
Kline's annual meeting in London with "imitation pillboxes" contain-
ing flyers calling on the company, the world's largest supplier of 
HIV/AIDS medications, to lower prices on "essential" drugs in devel-
oping countries, the London Independent reports. The protestors, 
along with some investors, said that drug patents are "incompatible" 
with increasing access to "life-saving" therapies and "quizzed" com-
pany officials about how GSK plans to make treatments for HIV/AIDS 
and malaria more affordable for developing nations. GSK CEO Jean-
Pierre Garnier said patents were "not to blame" and cited a lack of 
health care infrastructure, as well as inadequate health care funding 
and a "lack of political will" on the part of some governments, as 
reasons for the limited drug access in some nations (Dandy, London 
Independent, 5/22). According to a GSK release, Garnier "restated 
GSK's commitment to the developing world" and said that the company 
is the only drug firm doing vaccine research on HIV, TB and malaria. 
He also "praised" what drug firms, governments and nongovernmental 
organizations have done so far to increase drug access. "There has 
been significant progress around access issues in recent months and a 
growing sense of partnership. We must continue to work together to 
fight the diseases that ravage the developing world," he said (GSK 
release, 5/21).


--
Despite 'Public Relations Beating', Pharmaceutical Companies Continue 
to Thrive, American Spectator Reports

Although pharmaceutical companies have taken a "public relations 
beating" over the price of AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, activist 
groups leading the criticism hope to spur the "abandonment of patent 
rights," not "free drugs for poor people," the American Spectator re-
ports. According to the Spectator, consumer organizations such as 
South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign and Ralph Nader's Consumer 
Project on Technology -- run by James Love -- "actually resist phil-
anthropic offers." One group, for example, "disparaged" Pfizer Inc.'s 
offer to donate to South Africa the drug Diflucan, a treatment for 
AIDS-related fungal infections, while "ecstatic" activists cheered 
Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s decision to stop enforcing patent rights 
on the antiretroviral drug d4T. The Spectator asks rhetorically, 
"Wouldn't [abandoning patent rights] stifle the next round of yet-to-
be-invented life-saving drugs?" but answers that this issue is "[n]ot 
Nader's concern." An unnamed vice president with one of the "bigger" 
drug companies admitted, "[AIDS], probably more than any other [dis-
ease] in the history of mankind, has been subject to politics ... 
when it comes to engaging in politics, we're bad at it." The Specta-
tor reports that drug firms have "yet to figure out how to prevail, 
at least in PR, over those who seem virtuous mainly because they earn 
nothing."

Money for Nothing

Despite "adverse publicity," drug companies have raked in "tons of 
money," with share prices "holding up." However, pharmaceutical firms 
"never thought of themselves as having a stake in Africa, nor much of 
one in AIDS generally." The unnamed pharmaceutical executive said, "I 
think it's fair to say no research-based company is going to live or 
die at the margin by antivirals," pointing out that the "real money" 
lies in anti-hypertension, cholesterol and pain drugs, as well as an-
tidepressants, antibiotics and "all the rest." According to the Spec-
tator, pharmaceutical companies' sales worldwide tally about $200 
billion annually, with Africa accounting for just 1% and AIDS medi-
cines 2.5% of drug sales. Drug companies could "give [AIDS] drugs 
away" in Africa, the Spectator reports, adding, "It's not so much the 
cost of giveaways or forgone sub-Saharan sales, but the slippery 
slope. If these drugs can be made available in poor countries, why 
not other drugs? And if drugs can be cheaper abroad, why not cheaper 
at home?" The pharmaceutical executive added, "Now it's not just AIDS 
[that is] pressing us on, but communicable diseases, malaria and tu-
berculosis." Meanwhile, drug companies spend $600 million to bring a 
new treatment to the market, with only one in 5,000 potential drugs 
moving through the "12-year testing and approval pipeline." In addi-
tion, "increasing competition" between pharmaceutical firms -- "even 
when armed with patents" -- "means the life-span of market exclusiv-
ity is not what it was," the Spectator reports.

Let's Make a Deal?

Still, the Spectator reports that drug firms may establish a "kind of 
Marshall AIDS Plan," with the Organization for Economic Cooperation 
and Development and the European Community purchasing and distribut-
ing medicines -- a deal that may "keep everyone happy except taxpay-
ers." In the United States, pharmaceutical companies have "resisted" 
a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, fearing that the govern-
ment, by becoming the "dominant or 'monopoly' buyer," would "soon 
dictat[e]" prices. However, they have raised "no objection" to gov-
ernment reimbursement of antiretrovirals under the AIDS Drug Assis-
tance Program, which costs taxpayers $750 million per year. Mean-
while, the Spectator reports that the Consumer Project on Technology 
has formed a not-for-profit company that will "soon ask the govern-
ment to allow it to make a low-cost version of d4T," an AIDS drug 
sold in the United States for $10 per day, as well as cancer drugs 
and other medicines. The Spectator reports, "Ralph Nader and Jamie 
Love want to go into the pharmaceutical business themselves? Inter-
esting! Why ... [would] the commercial exigencies of selling, even as 
a not-for-profit, ... end their supposed moral superiority?" (Be-
thell, American Spectator, May 2001).   


--
African Growth and Opportunity Act Marks Progress in U.S.-African Re-
lations, Zoellick Writes

The African Growth and Opportunity Act, passed by Congress last May, 
"represents a new approach by the United States to working with the 
countries of sub-Saharan Africa," U.S. Trade Representative Robert 
Zoellick writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The law allows duty-
free access "for nearly all goods produced" in the 35 sub-Saharan Af-
rican nations, "offer[ing] these countries a real opportunity to join 
us as we advance a world of free trade and free people," Zoellick 
writes. He notes that the trade law is "complemented by a number" of 
HIV/AIDS programs and other agreements to "ease high debt burdens" in 
African countries. Zoellick adds that one of his "first steps in of-
fice was to extend and expand a flexible interpretation of intellec-
tual property rules to assist efforts to combine low-cost medicines 
with comprehensive HIV/AIDS health projects." Zoellick voices hope 
that the African trade law "will be but the first step on a road to a 
new type of U.S.-African economic relationship," adding, "This future 
will be marked by dynamism, not stagnation; the rule of law, not cro-
nyism; responsibility, not dependency; human decency, not cruelty; 
and individual achievement, not stultifying states." Zoellick con-
cludes, "[W]hen Africa breaks into the bright light of a new day of 
democracy and economic vibrancy, I believe that the [Africa trade 
law] will be seen as instrumental in pointing the way" (Zoellick, 
Wall Street Journal, 5/23).

--
The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, 
a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, by National 
Journal Group Inc. c 2001 by National Journal Group Inc. and Kaiser 
Family Foundation. All rights reserved. 

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