patent wars on aids drugs
public health or corporate wealth?
Western Europe, globally considered one of the most advanced and sophisticated regions, is now experiencing the blunt of the epidemic that is ravaging the world-HIV/AIDS. In the year 2003, UNAIDS approximated that 600,000 people in the region were infected with the virus. And still startling was the nascent knowledge that it was no longer a gay man's disease, as AIDS contraction in heterosexual individuals increased dramatically to a number that depicts 60% of those with the virus. The five primary countries that comprise the region are each undergoing severe crisis situations in trying to rectify their quandaries. Over 130,000 French citizens are infected, along with 120,000 Spaniards, 95,000 Italians, 65,000 Portuguese, and anywhere from 51,000 to 82,000 of those living in the United Kingdom. Of those nations, Portugal's rate of AIDS, eighty-eight persons among every one million, ranks highest, despite it's arrival as one of the newest members of the region to be hit by the pandemic. The most interesting aspect of the situation in Western Europe is that a very significant minority of the causes of contraction is intravenous drug use. Users of these drugs traditionally do cleanse the syringe properly, and the blood from a prior injection contaminates the current procedure. In countries such as France and Spain, the drugs contribute to 20-30% of their infected populace, whereas in Portugal, over half of those infected, attribute their current condition to drug usage.
HIV/AIDS Statistics: Western Europe
Adults age 15-49 living with HIV/AIDS - 540,000
Source: UNAIDS (details compiled from pages 180 onwards in UNAIDS PDF document)
Abstracted from UNAIDS AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2003
In Western Europe, at the end of 2003, about 520,000 to 680,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS. There were approximately 30,000 to 40,000 people newly infected with HIV in 2002. AIDS related deaths had reduced to about 2600 to 3400 deaths in 2003 in comparison to 8000 deaths in 2002. The decline in the death rate is directly attributed to the widespread availability of antiretroviral treatment.
Heterosexual transmission is driving the HIV epidemic in the Western European countries. However, it is reported that a majority of the new infections were a result of people being infected in a country with high HIV prevalence rate. Most of these new infections occurred in the United Kingdom; where the number of new infections in 2002 was double that in 1998. In the United Kingdom, 70% of heterosexually transmitted HIV cases were among people who had acquired HIV while living in countries with generalized epidemics. A significant share of new infections in the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden were also acquired elsewhere in the world which had a high HIV prevalence rate. In 2002, for the first time since 1997, Germany showed an increase in new HIV infections.
The most common mode of the spread of the HIV infection in Germany , Greece and the Netherlands is dominated by sex between men. The role of injecting drug use in the HIV epidemic varies among the high-income countries. Just over 10% of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2002 were caused by injecting drug use in these countries.
Portugal is also seeing a significant increase in HIV infections. In Portugal, injecting drug users amounted for more than half the total HIV infections in 2002.
Access to Treatment and Care
About 500, 000 people in high-income countries were receiving antiretroviral drugs at the end of 2001. The nascent introduction of antiretroviral therapy since 1995/1996 has dramatically reduced HIV/AIDS related deaths. Longer survival of those living with the virus has gradually led to a steady increase in the number of people living with the virus in these wealthy nations.
Examining the situation, and identifying drug usage as a huge problem, focus must be placed on this area.
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