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New push for public health, AIDS spending at African Union summit

Activists hope this weekend's African Union (AU) summit will net commitments to boost government spending on public health, helping to curb the spread of AIDS, which killed 2.3 million Africans in 2004.

"We are definitely optimistic that this time there will be some movement, that this time there will be not just talk about an HIV strategy for the AU but how to tackle an action-oriented plan," Oxfam spokeswoman Shehnilla Mohamed said.

"Governments are learning that fighting AIDS is not just a health issue but a development issue," she said.

"Now they have to deliver on the existing protocols and develop a serious and practical strategy."

Mozambique is the only country that has, thus far, committed to allocating 15 per cent of its gross domestic product to healthcare in the four years since the goal was stated during the founding of the pan-African body.

The rest of the 52 countries included in the African Union spend less than 10 per cent of their annual revenues on health, anti-AIDS and anti-HIV efforts included.

Controversial drug trials, battles over patents and the fate of millions of orphans are also likely to be discussed at a summit session devoted to the fight against AIDS on the world's poorest continent, home to nearly two-thirds of the 39.4 million people worldwide infected with HIV or AIDS.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says just 310,000 people in Africa were being treated with a cocktail of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that inhibit the progression of their disease, which has no known cure.

But demand for free drugs vastly outstrips their supply, the cost of the drugs - at some $US600 annually for the rest of a patient's life, an impossible dream on the continent.

Generic versions of the drugs have been priced at roughly $US300 a year, the costs for which the WHO hopes will be offset by national resources, international agencies and private or government donations.

Efforts to provide low-cost drugs to African HIV sufferers received a major boost this month when the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first ARV cocktail, which could open the taps on the promised $US15 billion that President George W Bush promised two years ago for the fight against AIDS.


Source:ABC News

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