New report details vision for addressing HIV/AIDS crisis

Author: Dennis Brown

Some 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, most of them poor and living in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions, according to the latest statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Last year alone, five million people were newly infected and three million died of AIDS.p. And that’s just the beginning. At the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona this month, UNAIDS issued a new report that revealed the “AIDS epidemic is still in its early phase and shows no sign of leveling off in the hardest hit countries,” adding that the disease is “erasing decades of development and cutting life expectancy by nearly half in the most affected areas.”p. This growing crisis was addressed by an international group of experts at a conference April 7-9 at the University of Notre Dame. Titled “Ethical Dimensions of Issues of Access to Medicines and Care,” the conference was hosted by the University’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business and funded by eight pharmaceutical companies, Merck, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyeth, Johnson&Johnson, Pfizer Abbott, and Eli Lilly. The meeting was keynoted by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town and included Bishop Kevin Dowling, chair of the Justice and Peace Department for the Catholic Bishops Conference of Southern Africa, as well as numerous other prominent religious and political leaders.p. The results of that conference have been published in a new report that includes five recommendations for meeting the medical, economic, social, cultural and ethical challenges of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.p. “Although much is happening, much remains to be done,” says Rev. Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C., director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business. “There is a particular need for developed as well as developing nations to exercise more leadership. Our report offers some insight and a way forward, and we hope it will inspire further action.”p. The recommendations are:p. ? Alleviate poverty ? The report calls for economic development through, among several suggestions, the cancellation of unpayable debt and the promotion of fair trade. It also suggests the direct funding of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in order to bypass bureaucratic barriers, increases in health care funding through the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), and a reduction or elimination of the Value-Added Taxes (VAT), tariffs and import duties on health care products.p. ? Develop the infrastructure ? While calling for replication and expansion of successful treatment and prevention programs, the report also suggests finding new methods, particularly through Web-based technologies. Other suggestions include the use of existing networks such as Rotary International, which already has a strong presence in Africa, and the development of new networks to ensure the equitable allocation of donations from the GFATM funds to local levels.p. ? Create and sustain leadership ? In advocating an examination of governmental roles and the creation of ethics standards, the conference’s participants emphasized that solutions must be sensitive to the culture of the region and address the leadership void and corruption in some countries. Other suggestions include the use of social marketing techniques to help change cultural attitudes, particularly toward women and girls, and the study of ethical issues related to HIV/AIDS.p. ? Develop new skills ? To work in harmony, the report encouraged the development of collaboration skills among the various interest groups and leaders in government, NGOs, faith-based organizations, and the pharmaceutical industry. Other suggestions include instruction in grant writing and sponsoring seminars on the World Trade Organization agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.p. ? Inspire hope ? The report finally urges efforts to promote individual empowerment, highlight success stories and ensure the human rights of those infected by HIV/AIDS.p. Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business was founded in 1978 and seeks to strengthen the Judeo-Christian ethical foundations in business and public policy decisions by fostering dialogue among academic and corporate leaders, as well as by research and publications. The full text of the report is available on the Center’s Web site:

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