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South Africa (HIV/AIDS)

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent political developments in South Africa on policy to tackle HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. (244088)

There has been a marked change in language on policy to tackle HIV/AIDS in South Africa since the appointment of Barbara Hogan as the new Health Minister. We welcome in particular the launch of a major public awareness campaign on 1 December and the announcement of plans to scale up prevention of mother-to-child transmission services.

No doubt responsibility for the 10 wasted years of HIV denial, and its effect on some 1.5 million orphans, lies squarely on the shoulders of the South African Government, but what is the Minister’s judgment on the Department’s influence, given its significant presence in South Africa during those years and given that in other so-called middle income countries such as Brazil, Botswana and India the Foreign Office has taken the lead in the light of their epidemic HIV incidence? Are the prospects of influence better or worse?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that Barbara Hogan represents a breath of fresh air in South Africa. We are seeing an end to the culture of denial about HIV and AIDS in South Africa that is extremely welcome. We have sought to get behind the public awareness campaign that Barbara Hogan has launched, and the scaling up of mother-to-child transmission prevention services, by committing some £15 million in a new programme announced by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), in a recent visit to South Africa.

Thirty-three million people in the world have HIV, yet only one in three has access to the medicines they need to keep them alive. The Minister knows well that one of the biggest problems is the cost of medicines. What progress has he made regarding discussions on the concept of the patent pool, whereby pharmaceutical companies would create generic copies and be paid a fair royalty so that people could access the medicines that they desperately need?

The hon. Gentleman may know that under the TRIPS—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—agreement of 2003 there are arrangements for developing countries to access generic copies of drugs. We have sought to encourage that process. We need to see better access not only to first-line anti-retroviral drugs but to second-line and third-line anti-retroviral drugs to deal with the more complex strains that occur when people are developing a resistance to the drugs. We will continue to work with pharmaceutical companies and a range of other players to achieve that end.