HIV and AIDS has been the major health threat of the last few decades, affecting around 75 million people since the start of the epidemic and continuing to affect around 35.3 million people today. For the most part the global response has been a success story. Eight million people in low- and middle-income countries are now accessing HIV treatment, compared to just 400,000 in 2003. However, these successes must be put into perspective. Since the start of the epidemic 36 million people have died from AIDS-related causes and there would have been millions more had it not been for the major push to get people onto treatment through mechanisms such as the Global Fund and political pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to keep the costs of medicines down.
We must keep the momentum going if we don’t want to see this progress sliding backwards, as HIV diagnoses continue to be high along with the costs of medicines. The two key major policy areas that will determine how successful we are in bringing an end to the AIDS epidemic are: the global community consensus on what will follow the millennium development goals, and tackling the barriers to access to medicines.
The battle must be fought in these two areas if we are serious about finally bringing an end to AIDS. The millennium development goals set an important benchmark to ‘halt and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS by 2015’. That has not been achieved. Worldwide, 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2012 and 1.6 million people died from AIDS-related causes. The number of people needing treatment will continue to rise as medical advances have shown the earlier a person starts treatment the less likely they are to spread the virus which means that medicines must be affordable. New and better drugs are constantly in development but too often the people who really need them are not able to access them. Almost three quarters of people living with HIV are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa where health systems, health finance and affordable medicines are in scarce supply.
In the past the pharmaceutical industry has been forced to respond to demands from civil society to enable companies in middle-income countries such as India and Brazil to produce cheaper versions of patented drugs. However, these agreements are constantly being threatened by new free trade agreements which inhibit the granting of these crucial licences. Intellectual property law is a vast and complex area but it must not be shied away from. Just as civil society campaigned to drop the debt in developing countries back in 2000, we need to call on the pharmaceutical industry and governments worldwide to protect a person’s right to access lifesaving medicines.
By fighting to keep HIV and AIDS on the global agenda we could not only, finally put an end to the AIDS epidemic but also forge the way on challenging unfair global structures which ultimately exclude the poorest from accessing what should be a universal right to health.
Pamela Nash MP is member of parliament for Airdrie and Shotts and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV/AIDS. She tweets @Pamela_Nash
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.