G8 Needs to Do More in the Battle Against AIDS

MSF Denounces U.S. ExIm Bank's $1 Billion Loan Offer for AIDS in Africa

New York/Okinawa, 21 July, 2000 — The international medical relief agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today denounced the fanfare surrounding the announcement of the United States Export-Import Bank's offer of $1 billion in loans to African countries to fight AIDS, and called on G8 nations to provide a serious, sustainable response to the AIDS pandemic. While MSF strongly encourages international support to improve access to treatment for people with AIDS, the organization believes that this kind of offer falls far short of the need and detracts attention from more appropriate solutions.

"This grandiose gesture is a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Joelle Tanguy, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the US. "The loans require poor countries to purchase expensive U.S.-produced drugs, which will limit dramatically the number of patients treated. Furthermore, offering loans to countries already wracked with debt will only further strain fragile health economies in the developing world."

MSF strongly supports the ability of poor countries to manage their own drug-purchasing programs and to seek the lowest prices on the market, often provided through generic manufacturing. The Export-Import Bank's loan announcement claims that the loans would "help make the overall cost of medicine and supporting infrastructure as low as possible." However, even at a discounted rate, U.S.-produced, patented drugs are more expensive than locally produced generic drugs. Even if the price of anti-retroviral drugs were reduced by 85 percent, the new discounted prices would still be higher than generic prices. An MSF study released last week at the XIII International AIDS Conference showed that it is feasible to bring the yearly treatment cost of anti-retroviral drugs down even more drastically.

"This initiative does more to consolidate the monopoly of the pharmaceutical industry on life-saving drugs than it does to save lives," said Ms. Tanguy. "The Bank's announcement has grabbed a lot of attention due to the recent visibility of the AIDS crisis in Africa—both in Durban and Okinawa—but it does not advance significantly the fight against AIDS. The G8 nations must mobilize and do better."

The need remains for a more efficient and sustainable enlistment of international public resources to battle the epidemic. These efforts should extend beyond sub-Saharan Africa to all affected developing nations and should take advantage of the low prices available through quality generic production.

The Export-Import Bank, a U.S. government-held corporation, stated in its announcement that it is "a trade agency, not an aid agency," and that its primary purpose is "financing creditworthy U.S. exports and creating U.S. jobs." Its mission is not to respond effectively to the AIDS crisis. The Bank is funded by the US Congress, and its Board is appointed by the US President and approved by the US Senate. The funding for loans comes from US taxpayers and from interest earned on loans.