DFID – AIDS PANDEMIC – 24 July 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: What action her Department is taking to relieve the AIDS pandemic in Africa?

[Clare Short: HIV/AIDS is deepening poverty in Africa and undermining development. It causes great human suffering and loss of life but also has deeply destructive economic effects due to loss of life and skills among the economically active generation and leaving elders and children unsupported.

My Department committed £180 million in HIV and sexual health programmes in Africa last year. We also made significant contributions to the global health fund, which provides commodities for the treatment of HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We are supporting programmes to develop a vaccine and microbicide. Our work focuses on prevention, treatment and care.]

[SUPPLEMENTARY:]  The Secretary of State's record in trying to combat this catastrophe is second to none. Does she agree that even if there were unlimited quantities of anti-retroviral drugs, all the problems of expense were solved and they could be supplied free of charge in unlimited quantities, the main problem that Africa would still face would be distribution to the people who need them? What practical steps is she proposing to take to engage non-governmental organisations, international organisations and any other agencies in building an effective distribution system for those vital drugs?

[Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, except on one point – I do not agree that the provision of anti-retrovirals is the most important thing – the most important thing is prevention. Uganda needs to happen across Africa; its prevalence rate decreased from 35 percent to 5 percent. That is a great achievement. Every country in Africa and, indeed, China and India need to achieve what has been achieved in Uganda.

On the availability of anti-retrovirals, obviously people are morally entitled to them, but even at cost price they are very expensive. As the hon. Gentleman says, distribution systems are not in place so even if the drugs were free most people in Africa would not get them. They would need regular treatment, good food and a good quality of life because they are very toxic drugs.

UNAIDS has a system whereby reduced price anti-retrovirals provided by the drug companies can be made available to countries. UNAIDS helps countries to make use of that provision; 13 have done so. We are busy trying to build basic health care systems for the immunisation of children and for other purposes across Africa. We must do that, but prevention, care and anti-retrovirals should be our order of priorities.]