The Gates Foundation will spend $50 million over five years to strengthen Botswana’s primary care system. Merck will match that contribution partly in medication and partly by developing and managing the program. The collaboration was announced at the 13th annual AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
Boehringer Ingelheim will donate drugs that help prevent mothers from transmitting HIV to their children. Unilever will offer its expertise in setting up distribution systems and public awareness programs.
Botswana has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, with one in three adults infected.
The Merck-Gates partnership is one of several recent initiatives aimed at fighting AIDS in Africa. TheWorld Bank has pledged $500 million. Several pharmaceutical companies have offered to slash their HIV drug prices by about 80 percent. Even after the discounts, however, the cost of treatment would be over $2,000 a year – far beyond the means of most Africans.
In an executive order in May, U.S. President Bill Clinton attempted to solve the medication problem by clearing the way for sub-Saharan nations to suspend patents on HIV drugs.
More needs to be done, however. At least $3 billion a year is needed to fund basic medical care and HIV prevention programs in Africa, Peter Piot said at the conference. Piot heads the United Nations’ AIDS program. Africa currently receives only a tenth of that amount in international aid.
Foreign governments are beginning to realize that the AIDS epidemic in Africa may threaten the world economy and international stability. Over the next 20 years, the disease will cut economic growth in Africa by an estimated 25 percent, according to the International Labor Organization.
Lives are being shortened, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Botswana, the average live expectancy has dropped from 71 to 39. The bureau also predicts that the epidemic will cause populations to shrink in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana by 2003.
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