Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS

  On behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS, I would like to express our strong support for the Select Committee's decision to hold an inquiry into HIV/AIDS and its social and economic impact.

  The timing of the inquiry is opportune. The scale of the HIV crisis in the developing world is slowly becoming apparent to the developed world. Although statistics for infections and deaths have been available for a long time, its profile has remained regrettably low in Western consciousness. Alongside the G8 Summit in Japan, the recent UN Security Council meeting on HIV, the US's recent declaration that AIDS is a security threat and the International AIDS Conference in Durban, your inquiry will help build momentum for Western governments and international organisations to put this crisis at the top of the international development and security agendas.

  I would particularly hope to see the inquiry identify directions for the developed world's role in supporting worst-affected countries to deal with and, hopefully, reduce their high levels of infections. In particular, ways in which Western governments, multinational companies, international agencies, international NGOs and charities can work together to:

    —  support cultural change within developing countries to reduce the extreme stigma of HIV infection and the social and sexual cultures which contribute to the spread of HIV infection, such as the lack of empowerment of women and girls in sexual relationships;

    —  improve access to drugs, especially for the treatments of opportunistic infections and palliative care but also for anti-retrovirals if appropriate; this will include looking at the relationship between multinational pharmaceuticals and governments which lack the health care infrastructure and funding to purchase drugs at Western prices;

    —  improve the provision of condoms to countries where need is outstripping availability;

    —  protect the human rights of people infected with and at risk of HIV, following the 12 international guidelines on HIV and human rights issued by UNAIDS and UN Commissioner for Human Rights;

    —  encourage and support political leaders and governments to head national responses to HIV, such Ugandan and Senegalese governments; politicians need to be encouraged to enact legislation which is protective of human rights, as identified in the UNAIDS/IPU Handbook for Legislators on HIV/AIDS, Law and Human Rights; and

    —  balance investment in the search for a vaccine with the need to invest in preventing the sexual transmission of the virus.

  Recent exchanges between President Thabo Mbeki and Western leaders emphasise the importance of sensitivity and respect for sovereignty as we offer advice and support to African countries as they struggle to respond to AIDS. Our interventions are always experienced within a post-colonial context and, if not made with great care, run the risk of alienating African leaders and driving them away from the best Western evidence. Unfortunately, it appears this might be happening in South Africa. President Mbeki's search for an alternative view of HIV/AIDS is a direct response to the experience of being informed about South Africa's problems and their solutions by Western governments, especially when those solutions have involved buying expensive pharmaceuticals from Western multinationals.

  Realistic solutions to HIV/AIDS must be sought within the context of African and Asian social economic and cultural systems. The Western model of health education campaigns, which have not proved their effectiveness here in any case, cannot be simply applied to countries where the priorities of its citizens are so different. The use of anti-retrovirals to slow down the death rate, as has happened in the West, will not work unless health structures are also put in place.

  In Britain, HIV has forced us, often reluctantly, to try to talk openly about sex, death, infection, stigma and discrimination. The scale of HIV in the developing world magnifies the fears, fatalism and despair. It is the West's duty to offer our experience, material support and expertise to help developing countries determine their own responses.

  If I may suggest a possible witness for your inquiry, Jeffrey O'Malley of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and Chair of the UK NGO AIDS Consortium has been a reliable guide to this issue for the Group and was an excellent speaker at a recent meeting on the roles of DFID, the EU, NGOs and communities in tackling AIDS.

  The All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS congratulates the Select Committee on deciding to undertake this important inquiry and would be very pleased to support the hearings, the report or its reception in any way you feel is appropriate.

Neil Gerrard MP
Chairman, All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS
May 2000

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