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Africa’s HIV response

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Delivering a speech at today’s opening session of the 16th Conference of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé congratulated leaders across the region for their personal commitment to the HIV response, specifically with regard to upholding human rights and protecting human capital. Addressing eight Heads of State and other high-level participants in Lomé, Togo, he called on African leaders to reduce their “triple dependency” on external sources for HIV drugs, commodities, and technologies.

Mr Sidibé noted that an estimated 630 000 people living with HIV in West Africa currently receive antiretroviral medicines, representing about 30% coverage. A vast majority of HIV drugs dispensed in Africa are imported, he added.

To ensure the health and security of their populations, African leaders should focus greater attention and resources on the local production of medicines, said the UNAIDS Executive Director. “In the future, regional and global power and national stability will be determined not by who controls arms, but by who controls access to medicines,” he said.

The development and production of medicines is expected to be a major growth industry in the 21st century.  According to IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the global pharmaceutical market is set to reach more than US $1 trillion in sales by 2015.  African countries represent 25% of the global health burden but control just $10 billion—or 1%—of the global medicines market.

“This is a sector poised for growth, and can serve to generate African innovation, strengthen systems, save lives and advance security,” said Mr Sidibé.

During his address, the UNAIDS Executive Director outlined four proposals to boost West Africa’s market share of HIV drugs and other medicines: establish and enable local pharmaceutical production to reduce dependency on imported medicines; remove trade barriers to allow for the emergence of pharmaceutical production hubs that can serve the regional market; strengthen national drug regulatory authority and increasingly harmonize regulatory policies across the region; and advance research and development to build Africa’s knowledge-based economy.

Noting that no single country, ministry or leader could advance these proposals alone, Mr Sidibé called for increased national and regional partnership across a variety of sectors, including trade, industrial development and health.

Later in the day, the UNAIDS Executive Director participated in a separate meeting with African Heads of State attending the conference. Echoing Mr Sidibé’s earlier comments, the Heads of State reemphasized the need for innovative financing mechanisms to address Africa’s HIV response.

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