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The Campaign to Fight AIDS: Ensuring Access to the Best Medicines

Thursday June 2004

How to Make Quality Drugs Available

DR. ROBERT GOLDBERG: Thanks to enormous private-sector investment in health care, we are on the verge of great public health breakthroughs that will extend the promise of healthier, longer, and better lives not just for rich nations but for each and every individual on this planet. But the quest for health improvements on a global scale requires us to look beyond ideological partisanship and face the most compelling public health challenges and opportunities before us with faith, ingenuity, and honesty. Surely, one of the most pressing-and most contentious-global health challenges is the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Our conference today is designed to help policymakers learn what resources are needed by those who must set up, run, and sustain programs in Africa intended to prevent HIV and treat those who are infected with that deadliest of diseases.

We made a decision when we organized this conference to invite African health-care providers who actually treat patients, rather than relying on abstract conjecture or statistics. We think that it is critically important to give the people on the ground who are actually treating this epidemic a real voice in our deliberations. In an era when technology can practically eliminate communication barriers, provide high-quality scientific information in real time, and accelerate the creation of sophisticated health-delivery networks, health-care professionals in developing countries are demanding direct control over how funds are allocated, how drugs are used, and how medicines are evaluated. The era when any one international agency or donor organization or drug company or NGO can dictate to HIV organizations in developing countries what their priorities are is over.

We are also going to discuss the scientific and economic challenges ahead as we seek to develop medicines to fight infectious diseases, particularly emerging pathogens, and provide a vaccine to combat HIV. The reality is that these treatments will not emerge without substantial private-sector investments, along with an expectation of substantial return on that investment. To suggest that these products can be developed without private-sector investment is not only shortsighted; it will cost lives. But the need for private-sector investment does not suggest that cutting-edge medicines cannot be made available to Africa and other developing countries for little or no cost. They can, they should, and they must be made available at affordable prices, and our speakers today are going to discuss how this can be done.