World AIDS Day: Oxfam calls for immediate action to prevent worsening global HIV & AIDS crisis

“Poor countries are being forced to deal with an unprecedented health crisis without the means to tackle it”
Annie Lennox
Published: 30 November 2006

More than four million extra health workers and access to vital medicines crucial to combating global crisis.

To address the worsening HIV & AIDS epidemic, Oxfam is calling on governments to pay $25 billion per year for 4.2 million extra health workers and ensure that affordable lifesaving medicines are made available to all who need them.

Eurythmics star Annie Lennox, who is backing Oxfam's campaign, said: "Last year, 8,000 people died every single day from AIDS, and there were 14,000 new infections each day. Poor countries are being forced to deal with an unprecedented health crisis without the means to tackle it. Governments can only show how seriously they are taking this crisis by taking immediate action to provide four million extra health workers and to grant those in need access to affordable medicines."

Last year, world leaders promised universal treatment by 2010. Oxfam says this will be an empty promise unless all governments act now:

  • They must give $25.6 billion per year until 2015 to recruit and train 4.2 million extra health workers (World Health Organization 2006 figures);

  • African governments must fulfil their commitment of allocating 15% of their national budget towards public health services;

  • They must be free to use their rights under TRIPS rules to ensure that affordable medicines are available to all;

  • Rich countries must support developing countries? rights to use the public health safeguards available under the World Trade Organization's intellectual property rules (TRIPS) to ensure access to affordable medicines.

Chronic shortage of doctors and nurses, poor infrastructure and insufficient medical equipment are crippling already weak health services in poor countries. Poor country governments need long-term, predictable aid to help them build stronger health systems.

Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign, said: "Poor countries need over four million new health workers. There are often not enough trained staff to treat patients and to administer anti-retroviral drugs even when these medicines are available. There is an acute shortage of female health workers in particular, who are essential in providing treatment to poor women in rural areas. HIV & AIDS needs to be fought on all levels and that means having a health system that serves the whole population."

Patients also need access to lifesaving, affordable medicines if the global HIV & AIDS crisis is to be averted. In some cases, this is being denied as rich country governments, under the influence of pharmaceutical companies, are pushing for even more restrictive intellectual property rules in bilateral trade agreements than those agreed under TRIPS. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are challenging these public health safeguards in developing countries.

For example, an ongoing legal action by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis against the Indian government could, if successful, restrict generic competition in India. This would prevent the production of affordable, generic versions of first- and second-line ARVs as well as other lifesaving medicines needed for people living with HIV and AIDS.

In its legal action, Novartis has challenged India's patent laws, which Oxfam and other organizations say comply with TRIPS. India's patent law, which includes important public health safeguards, could help India maintain its status as the largest manufacturer and exporter of generic medicines to the developing world. Half of all the ARVs used by people in developing countries are generic versions produced in India. If Novartis is successful, the impact of the ruling on the treatment of AIDS in poor countries, and particularly in Africa, could be enormous.

UNAIDS, in a new report, say that more people are now accessing anti-retroviral drugs. Oxfam believes this is because increased generic competition drastically reduced the cost of anti-retrovirals. Generic drug companies in India used public health safeguards under TRIPS to become pioneers of fixed dose combinations that simplified HIV treatment. This is now the basis for treatment programs across Africa. Even the US' PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program buys and distributes cheaper generic anti-retrovirals made in India. Generic competition has brought the price of anti-retrovirals down from around $10,000 to on average $132 per patient per year.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:

Stuart Fowkes, Oxfam press office
01865 472254 | 07818 406038

Nicky Wimble
01865 472193 | 07876 476402