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Gates urges more HIV prevention

by editor2
August 14th, 2006

Bill Gates, the world’s most generous philanthropist, called on Monday for substantially greater efforts to boost HIV prevention as the only way to tackle the planet’s growing Aids burden.

Mr Gates’s call, at the opening of an international Aids conference in Toronto, was backed by Bill Clinton, the former US president, who urged a sharp increase in HIV testing and efforts to tackle the stigma of those found to be HIV-positive.

According to Mr Clinton, “90 per cent of the people in the developing world who are HIV-positive don’t even know it”.

Mr Gates warned that until a cure or breakthrough in prevention methods emerged, continued growth in new HIV infections threatened to outstrip efforts to treat the 40m currently infected.

“The amount of money for universal treatment and prevention far exceeds the amount any single government, let alone foundation, can provide,” said Mr Gates. The $1.5bn (€1.2bn, £794m) annual spending on health of the $30bn Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – about half of it on global health – is set to double within three years with new contributions from the financier Warren Buffett.

Both Mr Gates and Mr Clinton attempted to avoid direct criticism of Pepfar, the international Aids programme established by US President George W Bush, which has been attacked for its moralistic approach.

They argued that on balance, the substantial resources spent by Pepfar deserved greater recognition.

However, Melinda Gates, Mr Gates’s wife, indirectly took a swipe at Pepfar’s emphasis on promoting sexual abstinence over the distribution of condoms. “In the fight against Aids, condoms save lives. If you oppose the distribution of condoms, something is more important to you than saving lives.”

She also argued that western pharmaceutical companies, facing criticism for enforcing patent rules that may keep Aids drug prices relatively high, were “part of the solution” through funding new research.

But she said drugs companies needed to do more to share drugs with other researchers keen to test their use in different ways.

Researchers needed to develop new tests and international organisations to draw up common ethical guidelines, to allow trials to operate more quickly.

Peter Piot, head of UNAids, the United Nations’ Aids co-ordination agency, called for a longer-term approach to funding prevention and treatment. His organisation has warned that the annual requirement for fighting Aids would soon triple to $23bn.

“We need to think in terms of decades and generations,” he said, stressing that advances in science and technology needed to be supplemented by social change.

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