Juan Masia, SJ (Sophia University)
I should like to stress two points. 1) Only 10 percent of the world's HIV infected population have access to HIV treatments. 2) Although tests and research have been performed among people infected by HIV in developing countries, there is no feasibility that the treatments which are the result of such tests and research may be made available to the population where research was being conducted.

During the past year a lot of debate has been going on about the prices and availability of aids vaccines. Unfortunately the economic interests of pharmaceutical companies in the industrial countries are a stumbling block that prevents the access to new treatments for more than 90 percent of the infected population in the world. This is a very concrete example of the prevailing trend of commercialization of life that is the main concern of our series of articles.

AIDS epidemic was first reported in 1981. In 1983, the HIV that causes the illness was discovered. In 1985 the licensing of an antibody test in order to diagnose the infection was approved. In 1987, the licensing of the first anti-HIV therapy was approved (It is known with the name of AZT).

The treatment for AIDS has recently improved. Fourteen anti-HIV drugs are now licensed in the USA. Where these drugs are available, mortality rates decrease by 45 percent. But more than 90 percent of HIV-infected persons around the world do not have access to such expensive treatments (which may be about more than 15000 dollars per year, plus the cost of clinic visits and laboratory monitoring). Actually, only about 10 percent of the infected population around the world have access to HIV treatments.

Respect for human rights is the key to the development and distribution of HIV vaccines.

We must ask: is it ethical to conduct vaccine research on people living in poverty, unless there is also a plan and financial resources to make the successful products of such research (i.e. the vaccines) available to those people?
The benefits of research should be made available to poor communities that participated in the research. But in the present situation, plans are not yet in place to ensure that a suitable vaccine, once developed, can be purchased, distributed and administered widely in the developing world.

Vaccine research in developing countries must be based upon partnerships between developed and developing countries, so that developing countries have a strong voice in deliberating issues such as the availability of a successful vaccine, and the many other ethical issues involved.

If the world does not take quick action, global access to AIDS vaccines will not occur. Experience with the hepatitis B vaccine shows us that there is an average 20-year delay before vaccines licensed in industrialized countries are first introduced in developing countries. Delays in providing access to these life-saving products are often due to a lack of mechanisms and funds to purchase these products, the lack of adequate pricing and delivery systems, insufficient manufacturing capacity, and excessive regulatory problems.

At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, June 2001 in New York, a Global Call for Action for AIDS Vaccines was launched, asking all of the world's leaders to take concrete action now to ensure the development of safe, effective and accessible preventive AIDS vaccines. There was also a call for governments to commit the necessary resources to provide AIDS vaccines for poor countries. They also called on the public sector of all nations to work with private industry, international agencies and non-governmental organizations to end the epidemic.

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