An estimated five million HIV positive people worldwide can’t afford meds. So last September, 44 countries joined the United Nations’ new UNITAID effort, which expands med access for those with HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. UNITAID will pool the nations’ buying power to negotiate lower drug costs, hoping to buy treatment for 200,000 people with HIV in developing countries in 2007. It will reduce the tab for second-line HIV drugs for those resistant to first-line regimens—which, due to previous humanitarian efforts, cost up to 20 times less than second-line regimens. As surprising as the level of UNITAID’s commitment was the breadth of the member nations—from Congo to Norway. So where was the U.S.?
The Bush administration objected to UNITAID’s financing plan to snag funding by taxing airline tickets bought in the countries. It’s the first such mandatory levy for a global health care cause. The Feds are instead hyping the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which currently treats more than 500,000 people annually for HIV. “Countries need to participate in all efforts to drive down the cost of meds,” says Asia Russell, a UNITAID activist. The Clinton Foundation, which has already brokered HIV med price reductions in several nations, will put the ex-prez’s White House clout behind UNITAID. That’s the ticket.