[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 16 July 2004, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
What has the HIV conference achieved?

By Karen Allen
BBC Health correspondent

As the delegates stagger through the heat of Bangkok to catch their flights and disperse to the corners of the world, assessments are already being made about what this conference has achieved.

History will be the judge, but meetings of this size are seen as important events, setting the global agenda for the next two years.

Leadership

Leadership has been a key phrase throughout the six days of talks.

HIV/Aids will have to be elevated up the political agenda, not just in the countries where they are suffering the most, but in the United States and EU.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan demonstrated his disappointment when he asked: "Where is the global solidarity" in efforts to tackle HIV/Aids?"

He compared the sums being committed to the fight against international terrorism - which threatens thousands - with those being set aside to fight against HIV/Aids which had killed millions.

A lasting legacy of Bangkok may be closer working relationships between governments; private enterprise and grassroots communities to confront Aids - but similar statements were made the last time around.

For it to be achieved HIV/Aids will have to be elevated up the political agenda, not just in the countries where they are suffering the most, but in the United States and EU.

The British Government will be keen to demonstrate its leadership when it announces its HIV/Aids strategy next week, and the US has already committed $15bn to HIV/Aids work.

Asia

Perhaps the biggest achievement of Bangkok is that it has put Asia on the map.

Thousands of journalists have reported the warning that without swift action soon, this continent could experience an epidemic on the scale of southern Africa.

Although infection rates here are still small in comparison, Asia is a continent containing the world's two most densely populated lands (China and India) so even a small increase in infections could have the potential to spread rapidly.

Drugs

There were no major scientific breakthroughs on vaccines or new drugs, indeed many key scientists kept away from the Bangkok event, preferring to save their air miles for a major conference later this year.

The generic drug firms, who in the past have been cast in the role as heroes, producing cheap copies of brand name drugs, are also looking to protect their own interests.
But for the first time at a conference of this size we have heard calls for a serious look into microbicides - gels used by women to protect them from the virus.

Increasingly women are becoming infected with the disease and condoms are not always and option their partners are prepared to consider.

Access to drugs, like every conference in the past, has been an enduring theme.

The prices of life saving anti-retrovirals have been significantly reduced in the past few years (up to 90% in some countries ) but despite this, they remain beyond the reach of millions.

So the big drugs firms had their stands trashed and the CEO of Pfizer was heckled off stage. This is standard fare at an Aids conference.

Rows over patents and protectionist trading laws have persisted, and the big pharmaceutical giants continue to be portrayed as the bad guys.

The generic drug firms, who in the past have been cast in the role as heroes, producing cheap copies of brand name drugs, are also looking to protect their own interests.

CIPLA, the Indian drug giant, quietly announced plans to patent a three-in-one Aids pill.

A move condemned by prominent aids activists and one that could potentially threaten the World Health Organization's 3 by 5 campaign, which relies heavily on copy versions of drugs.

Prevention

But the issue that just wouldn't go away concerned HIV/Aids prevention.

Next time around the talks will be held in Toronto - not a developing country and therefore possibly a mistake.
In particular whether condom use or the promotion of sexual abstinence was the best way forward.

It is assumed even greater political importance because it's closely linked to cash.

Some of the billions being pledged by the US favour programmes that promote the no sex before marriage approach.

And the Americans have opted to hold onto the funds and distribute them themselves, rather than channel them through the global fund.

Whist critics say the money is being ringfenced for ideological ends, the US government's adviser on HIV/Aids, Dr Tony Fauci, said it was simply a matter of good housekeeping and keeping tabs on the funds.

The future

Next time around the talks will be held in Toronto - not a developing country and therefore possibly a mistake.

Without significant progress to back up the commitments voiced at Bangkok, by the time the delegates get together again, there will be another 10 million people in the world infected with HIV/Aids.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific