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New Research Looks at the UNís Failure on AIDS
Roger Bate, AEI Online, 12-1-06

Bate takes the UN to task for failing to "walk the walk" when it comes to ensuring that funds for HIV treatment are spent transparently and effectively.

It is ironic that the accountability that Mr. Annan so passionately speaks of has been thin on the ground when it comes to the UN's promotion of treatment for HIV. It should be a cause for celebration that over 1.6 million people in the poorest parts of the world are now on antiretroviral treatment (ARV) which halts the advance of the virulent Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Yet new research, published today, exposes systematic errors in the UN's treatment approach. Perhaps the most sobering knowledge of all is that these errors were known in advance, yet policy proceeded anyway.

The main failing has been the leadership of the UN's health body, the World Health Organization. WHO's "3 by 5" initiative was an attempt to treat three million people with HIV drugs by the end of 2005. The initiative generated massive interest in disease treatment, and was most successful in motivating those working in health and aid agencies to increase their efforts. Absent this euphoria, however, staggering failings of the program soon became apparent.

The "3 by 5" initiative:

  • cut corners on drug quality exposing thousands of patients to drugs of unknown efficacy
  • over-strained poor countries' fragile health systems, potentially undermining small–scale but successful treatment programs (notably Sierra Leone and Lesotho)
  • did not maintain dialogue or even consult with some countries that disagreed with its targets (notably South Africa)
  • did not promote good clinical practice, so it is unknown how many patients are failing treatment (all over Africa)
  • declared 3 by 5 a success in December 2005, leaving others to clean up the mess.

Mr. Annan is correct that accountability is important. But I see little at the UN on HIV treatment. John Williams, a Canadian MP and chairman of GOPAC (the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption), defined accountability at the Transparency International conference a couple of weeks ago as "force beyond your control that makes you change your behavior." I see no force able to pressure change at UN and no change in behavior.

The Canadian Development Agency did carry out and publish a comprehensive review of 3 by 5 and explained many of its failings, but it often pulled its punches, totally ignoring drug quality concerns. Until the UN properly acknowledges the grotesque failure of its 3 by 5 program and abandons the approach started in 2003, it will only be paying lip service to accountability.

Project FDA.
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