UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- African countries say wealthy nations
should make HIV-fighting drugs available and affordable to
residents of the continent, which has been hardest hit by AIDS yet
has virtually no access to treatments saving lives in the
Many African health ministers and ambassadors attending a
meeting of the Security Council on Monday applauded a new
initiative by the United States to increase funding for AIDS
prevention programs and vaccine research.
At the meeting, Vice President Al Gore announced that the White
House was seeking an extra $150 million this year from Congress for
vaccine research and prevention programs in Africa.
African officials, however, said more money was needed, and that
wealthy nations had an ethical imperative to give Africans access
to HIV-fighting drugs.
``It is immoral that the worst affected continent has the lowest
access to care,'' said Namibia's health minister, Dr. Libertine
Many patents for HIV-fighting drugs are held by Western
pharmaceutical companies, which have lobbied to block cheaper,
generic versions from being manufactured. That has kept effective
yet expensive drugs such as AZT and their generic versions out of
the hands of most Africans.
Zimbabwe's health minister, Dr. Timothy Stamps, said withholding
such drugs constituted a violation of Africans' basic human rights
-- the right to health. And he questioned whether the practice was a
result of sheer ignorance or a ``new form of racial discrimination,
another ethnic cleansing process.''
Stamps was similarly incredulous that the industrialized world
had just spent what he said was $600 billion to ward off the Y2K
computer bug ``to eliminate the risk of some people losing some
money, some places losing some data and some people disrupting
their busy schedules.''
``To some of us in the real world, this only induces a sense of
wonder that intelligent beings in the metropolitan countries can be
so oblivious, so color blind, to what has happened in the African
continent over the past 15 years,'' he said.
AIDS is now the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa, a region
where poverty and wars have already taken a heavy toll. In 1998,
200,000 people died as a result of armed conflicts in Africa,
compared with 2.2 million from AIDS.
An estimated 23.3 million Africans are currently infected with
HIV or AIDS.
``War fuels the epidemic,'' Dr. Peter Piot, head of the joint
U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, told the council in its first meeting
ever on a health issue. ``But undoubtedly the epidemic itself is
now ... causing social and economic crises which in turn threaten
According to U.N. statistics, $165 million was spent on AIDS
prevention in Africa in 1996, while estimates suggest that between
$800 million and $2.5 billion a year is needed to mount effective
prevention campaigns on the continent.
The United States alone spends $10 billion annually in public
and private money for AIDS research, prevention, care and treatment
for the 40,000 people infected in America every year, the U.N.
Development Program says.
The AIDS activist group ACT-UP said the administration could
save millions of African lives if it would stop pressuring poor
countries and allow them to access generic drugs that could reduce
the cost of HIV-fighting medicines by as much as 90 percent.
``An end to these U.S. pressure campaigns would cost taxpayers
nothing,'' said a statement from ACT-UP.
The organization's members disrupted some of Gore's presidential
campaign outings last year to protest the administration's policy
on AIDS drugs.
ACT-UP similarly criticized Gore's $150 million spending
announcement as a ``drop in the funding bucket.''
Gore's appearance at the United Nations also drew some questions
from reporters about whether the vice president was merely
bolstering his campaign to be the Democratic candidate for
president by announcing some new U.S. initiatives.
U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke scoffed at such suggestions,
saying what was announced had no direct relation to the campaign.