UNITED NATIONS, June 22 (UPI) -- Against the backdrop of
controversy and increasing tensions between developing and rich
nations, the U.N. General Assembly will hold a special two-day
session on HIV/AIDS Monday in New York, to underline the
growing concern over the rapid spread of the disease around the
As a novelty, the special meeting will include -- along with
government delegates and heads of state -- a large number of
representatives from pharmaceutical and chemical companies, as
well as lobbyists, religious leaders and non-governmental
organizations. The session has been configured to be held in
panels, to which the press will have free access.
Analysts are expecting a big show of force, with strong demands
from underdeveloped countries for less expensive access to
drugs to combat the pandemic and the right to bend
international rules on patents in order to produce cheaper
Also expected is a heated confrontation between religious
groups, especially Catholics and Muslims, who have expressed
opposition to some prevention programs and sex education
policies currently being implemented internationally by U.N.
agencies and individual governments.
In a report released this week, the Joint U.N. Program on
HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) pointed out that treating millions of people
already infected with HIV will cost $9.2 billion annually, of
which developing nations are expected to contribute a third to
a half, with the industrialized countries providing the rest.
About $1.8 billion is now being spent on AIDS treatment and
prevention programs in the developing world, which is less than
a fifth of the projected need, according to estimates from U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Since it first appeared about 20 years ago, AIDS has killed
some 22 million people around the world. The worst situation is
in sub-Saharan nations, which are among the poorest in the
world and have fewer resources to combat the disease.
A group of developing countries, informally led by Brazil,
South Africa and India, has proposed the production of cheaper,
more accessible drugs that are copied from patented medication
produced by the industrialized world.
In a statement issued a few days ago in Geneva, they asked for
the right to bend the strict patent protection rules of a 1994
international trade treaty, known as TRIPS, in the event of a
national health emergency such as the AIDS pandemic.
Rich nations -- in which most of the largest pharmaceutical
companies are based -- have warned that weakening the patent
protection regulations contained in TRIPS would undermine the
efforts made by those companies in researching an effective
cure for the disease.
The U.S. government maintains that, without the economic
incentives provided by the patents system, "fewer drugs will be
available for treating fatal diseases."
Observers have noted, however, that many leading U.S. and
European pharmaceutical companies are feeling the pressure and
giving in to the demands from Third World countries, especially
from Africa, to lower the price of anti-AIDS drugs.
Disputes over treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS are also
likely to produce some noisy clashes during the deliberations,
according to analysts and U.N. officials.
Conservative Islamic countries, the Catholic Church and some
other Christian groups have already expressed firm opposition
to the distribution of condoms, the dissemination of
information on safe sex and the use of contraceptive methods to
prevent the spread of the disease.
An Egyptian delegate has already proposed that the final
document include a reference to homosexuality as one of the
leading causes of spreading infections, a view that is strongly
opposed by pro-gay activists.
Libya, in turn, is opposing any mention of narcotics in the
statement, which is expected to be issued at the end of the
Feminist issues will also be in the agenda. The U.N.
Development Fund for Women, known as UNIFEM, has announced a
five-point plan of action "to make women central to every
strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS."
Citing the fact that 1.3 million women died of AIDS last year
and that nearly half of new HIV infections affect women, UNIFEM
has proposed making male and female condoms "affordable and
accessible to all" and the dissemination of AIDS prevention
information to adolescents and women who, it claims, "should be
involved in the design of policies and education campaigns."
To emphasize the U.N.'s commitment to the issue, the U.N.
Secretariat Building in New York will display a huge red AIDS
ribbon stretched over 550 of its windows during the