Pharmaceutical interests versus AIDS in Africa

July 10, 2003

The appointment of Randall Tobias as the US Government's global AIDS co-ordinator is analysed in this week's editorial.

Tobias will head up a $15 billion programme to tackle AIDS in the African and Caribbean countries most devastated by the pandemic, although sceptics point out that his lack of knowledge about Africa and his pharmaceutical industry connections could weaken his appointment to this crucial role in global health. The editorial comments: 'Rapid appointment of a team behind him with proven African public-health and HIV experience would help him gain credibility in his new role, as would announcement of a detailed plan of how the Bush AIDS initiative will work with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. His connections with the pharmaceutical industry have led to concerns about whether Tobias is committed to providing access to low-cost generic AIDS drugs, or whether he will purchase patented versions so protecting the interests of US drug companies. Tobias needs quickly, and publicly, to support purchasing of low-cost generics to provide ammunition against those who charge that he is no more than a stooge of the drug industry. He could even go as far as to counter current US opposition to full implementation of the Doha Declaration of 2001.'

Recognising the significance of Tobias' appointment, the editorial concludes: 'Bush and Tobias together could, with the backing of Congress, change the nature of HIV/AIDS in Africa. If all Tobias' targets are met, which is likely only if the full US$15 billion is appropriated by Congress, then he will have proven himself a worthy Global AIDS Coordinator. Tobias' task then, surely, as befits his job title, will be to combat the emerging HIV pandemic in Asia.'
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