Policy wonk and rock singer: fighting for the same cause
As an Oxfam policy advisor on access to medicines, I believe governments have to take decisive action to reduce the price of new medicines to treat HIV and AIDS that are needed when HIV positive individuals develop resistance to first line treatments. These 2nd and 3rd line treatments, which are patented by big pharmaceutical companies, often cost five to ten times more than 1st line treatments for AIDS. 1st line treatments are far less expensive because they are not patented, which means generic manufacturers can compete to produce affordable versions of older medicines.
So I was somewhat heartened by an announcement by the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, to kick-start the opening ceremony of the AIDS Conference last night, where he pledged to renegotiate the prices of new antiretroviral medicines. Multinational pharmaceutical companies charge high prices for new antiretroviral medicines in Mexico because it is a middle-income country. Yet nearly half of Mexico’s population lives under the poverty line, and high prices for new antiretroviral medicines mean many HIV positive Mexicans cannot get the treatment they need today.
Of course, an announcement is just a first step. The Mexican government will face difficult challenges to negotiate lower prices. Big pharmaceutical companies are fiercely resistant to engage in any price negotiations with middle-income countries. Other middle income countries, such as Brazil and Thailand, have struggled for years to reduce the costs of these key medicines.
Yet these changes are possible when you have passionate advocates reminding the world of why universal access matters.
This morning, Oxfam held a successful press conference with Oxfam policy advisors and Annie Lennox – our ambassador this week in Mexico – who reminded the media and attendees about the need to hold governments to account for achieving universal access by 2010.
Aids activist, Oxfam global ambassador and singer Annie Lennox poses in front of giant letters spelling “access”, in support for campaigners’ call to achieve universal access to treatment by 2010 for HIV-infected people. Credit: David Viñuales/Oxfam
Annie spoke eloquently about the costs and consequences of inaction, especially as it affects women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa. More importantly, she spoke of what is possible, in telling the story of one HIV positive girl she met during her last trip to South Africa, who, upon receiving treatment, has recovered from the brink of death and is now leading a healthy and happy life today. It is a story that is not being told often enough.
Often the urgent messages we wish to deliver as policy advisors are lost behind statistics, cliché phrases and arcane policy discussions held behind closed doors. At such a critical juncture in turning the tide against the AIDS pandemic, the spirited and bold speech from Annie, and the many other excellent speeches, demonstrations and discussions from the first day, are a refreshing boost to defeating a disease that has afflicted millions of poor people for far too long.