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Bill Clinton Announces AIDS, Malaria Initiatives

David Braun in Dakar, Senegal
for National Geographic News
August 4, 2008
 
Hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by AIDS and malaria will be averted with better treatment programs, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said yesterday in announcements in two West African nations.

Speaking in Senegal and Liberia, Clinton announced initiatives he said could immediately reduce AIDS-related infant mortality and, separately, extend affordable malaria treatment. The two diseases cause millions of deaths every year, especially in Africa.

Malaria

Speaking in Monrovia to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, members of her cabinet, and the country's legislature, Clinton formally announced that his humanitarian foundation had helped negotiate a 30 percent reduction in the price of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), a malaria treatment.

Malaria is the leading cause of death for African children. The mosquito-borne disease particularly plagues Liberia, where it causes more than half of all deaths in the country.

Under the new agreement, manufacturers of ACT have agreed to lower the price in return for the stabilization of demand.

Clinton explained that if manufacturers can be certain of a larger market, they can afford to reduce their margins and charge less for ACT.

"That means you will be able to provide the medication to more of your people with the money you've got," Clinton told the assembled representatives of Liberia's government.

Clinton also said his foundation was investigating whether ACT could be made even cheaper if Liberia successfully cultivates a plant used in ACT drugs.

Saving HIV-Positive Infants

In the second announcement, made in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, Clinton was joined by representatives of the government of France, the World Health Organization (WHO), and UNITAID, the funding mechanism set up in 2006 by France and other countries to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

If infants diagnosed with HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—are treated immediately after the disease has been identified, their prospects for survival quadruples, the group told a meeting of health care professionals and the media, citing South African research.

Without treatment, half of children born with HIV die by the age of two, and four out of five die by age five.

WHO estimates that 800,000 HIV-positive children are in need of treatment. At the end of 2007, only 200,000 children had access to treatment.

Some 30 percent of children born to HIV-positive mothers are HIV-positive.

Based on the South African trials, WHO has endorsed immediate treatment of infants that are HIV-positive. UNITAID is funding the William J. Clinton Foundation and other organizations to set up a process to implement the new treatment regimen as fast as possible.

France

A huge number of children would live because of this decision, Clinton said in Dakar.

"The universal right to health care is nothing if it cannot be implemented," he said.

Clinton said the funding provided by France could be the single most important contribution that country had made to the world since the Second World War.

Most of UNITAID's funding is provided by France from revenue raised in the form of a modest tax on international air tickets.

"France is and will remain at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS," Alain Joyandet, the country's Minister of State for Cooperation and Francophony, said in a statement distributed at the Dakar event.

"We strongly appreciate and support UNITAID and its fruitful partnership with the Clinton Foundation."

UNITAID is to give the Clinton Foundation $200 million over four years to facilitate the new WHO policy, according to Anil Soni, chief executive officer of the U.S. foundation's HIV/AIDS initiative.

"We believe that at least a dozen governments will agree to the new procedure by the end of the year, and all 33 countries that we work in will eventually be doing this," Soni said in an interview.

Clinton ended a weeklong tour of projects supported by his foundation in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, and Senegal yesterday.

He is scheduled to make remarks at a world conference on HIV/AIDS in México City today.
 

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