Addressing 60 Ministers of Finance and Health at a conference in Tunis on 4 July, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé praised African leaders for their increased engagement and partnership in HIV responses across the region.
“AIDS investments have fuelled progress across the health and development spectrum,” said Mr Sidibé, who participated in a conference session focused on African innovation.
Strategic HIV investments in Africa have yielded multiple returns. In 22 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of new HIV infections dropped by more than 25% between 2001 and 2009. More than 5 million Africans are now receiving antiretroviral treatment - up from just 50 000 a decade ago.
However, these gains are fragile. Every day, 3500 Africans die of AIDS. An estimated 5 million Africans who need HIV treatment are still not accessing it. About 300 000 children in Africa continue to be born with HIV every year.
In the current economic downturn, scarce resources must be used with greater efficiency, transparency and accountability, said the UNAIDS Executive Director, in a presentation entitled African solutions to achieve greater value for money. He highlighted cost-effective policies and programmes that have delivered sustainable results on the ground.
In South Africa, for example, unit costs of HIV drugs have been significantly reduced as more people access treatment - from US $500 to $200 per person. Other countries have reduced programme costs by eliminating parallel structures and stand-alone health services.
Investing in innovation
African leaders can accelerate progress by investing in innovation, said Mr Sidibé. Through partnerships with emerging and industrialized economies, they should facilitate the transfer of technologies for medicines and commodities. By focusing resources on HIV research and development, they could build Africa’s knowledge-based economy, he added.
Mr Sidibé encouraged ministers attending the conference to reduce Africa’s dependency on imported HIV medicines through the local production of antiretroviral drugs. He said that a single drug regulatory authority in Africa could ensure the faster roll out of quality-assured medicines.
A new paradigm
Africa is poised to transcend the outdated donor-recipient paradigm, said the UNAIDS Executive Director. Leaders are beginning to embrace a new global compact for shared responsibility and national ownership, he said.
Organized by Harmonization for Health in Africa and hosted by the African Development Bank, the two-day conference in Tunis brought together ministers, parliamentarians and high-level representatives from international organizations, civil society and the private sector.