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International AIDS Day

2. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the Government's plans to mark international AIDS Day. [34884]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): On world AIDS day the UK highlighted the importance of more and better funding for the fight against AIDS, and of working towards universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010. As EU President, the UK hosted a meeting that launched an EU statement on HIV prevention for an AIDS-free generation. The Government also published a briefing paper on "Harm reduction—tackling drug use and HIV in the developing world".

Ian Lucas: May I raise a particular issue affecting young children in the developing world who suffer from AIDS? At present, drug companies do not manufacture dedicated drugs for young children and as a result there is some over and under-prescribing of drugs. Will my
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right hon. Friend use his good offices to raise the matter with drug companies so that young children suffering from that terrible disease receive the appropriate treatment?

Hilary Benn: I have seen the report from Médecins sans Frontières to which my hon. Friend draws attention. I share his concern and happily undertake to take up the issue, because it is important that we use all the means at our disposal to fight that terrible disease, which presents a real threat to the future development of Africa.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Could the Secretary of State tell us about co-operation between his Department and non-governmental organisations such as Tearfund and Christian Aid in tackling the AIDS problem in the continent of Africa?

Hilary Benn: We work with a wide range of voluntary and community organisations in the development field and I pay tribute to them for the work they undertake in helping communities to overcome stigma and, in particular, in providing support to orphans and vulnerable children. In the developing world, 13 million children have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. The work done in local communities makes the biggest difference; if the disease is to be beaten, treatment is hugely important for those who are already HIV-positive. The only way to achieve an AIDS-free generation is if people do not acquire the HIV virus in the first place. That is why being open and honest about the virus—how people catch it and how they can protect themselves and fight it—is fundamental to winning the battle. The work of the organisations to which the hon. Gentleman referred is hugely important in supporting communities to have the confidence to be open and honest about how to defeat the disease, and I applaud them for the work they are doing.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the Select Committee report on that very subject, published last week? Will he support one of our recommendations and agree that, as in many countries, if people need drugs, they also need the money to pay for them, that will make universal access to treatment impossible? Will he work with UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation to issue an international policy statement on free access to treatment for AIDS at the point of delivery?

Hilary Benn: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's point about the importance of ensuring that people can gain access to the drugs that will save their lives. It is no good if people cannot afford them because the price is too high. That is why much of the £1.5 billion that we are committing to the fight against AIDS over the next three years—which, as my hon. Friend knows, makes Britain the second-largest donor in the world in the fight against AIDS—is going to support building the capacity of developing countries to improve their health services and make those drugs available to people. That is the only way we shall save people's lives.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Committee welcomed the role of his Department in securing the 2010 target but
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expressed some concern at the need for annual monitoring to ensure that the target is reached? Will he consider incorporating targets on access to HIV/AIDS treatment in the next spending round? Will he report on cross-Whitehall co-operation and explain what review of programmes his Department is undertaking in the light of the AIDS crisis? It affects countries such as Botswana, where his Department has little aid engagement at present, threatening their very survival.

Hilary Benn: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, Botswana is of course a middle-income country whose economy has been growing fast and well. In the end, the Department and I have taken the view that it is important to prioritise our efforts where we think we can make the most difference. There is a lively and real debate about targets as we move towards "all by 10". The first thing we need is for individual countries to set their own targets, because a global target to measure progress as we go may not capture the ability of countries to build up capacity as quickly as we would like. Secondly, the global steering committee is looking at that question and, in particular, at which milestones we should use to measure the progress we make between now and 2010 in achieving access for all. The committee will report in the middle of next year and we shall look carefully at its recommendations.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I have recently returned from a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Swaziland. While out in Swaziland, we were informed by non-governmental organisations and Government officers that the AIDS rate there could be as high as 43 per cent.—almost one in two of the population and the highest rate in the world. Will my right hon. Friend consider given extra ring-fenced funding to Swaziland to help it combat that AIDS rate?

Hilary Benn: I can tell my hon. Friend that we are, through a regional project, funding work to support the fight against AIDS in Swaziland. The Government there also have a responsibility to ensure that they use their resources effectively to put money into the fight against AIDS, which is affecting the population there to the extent that he describes.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Chamber is far too noisy.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): The AIDS pandemic is causing devastation in developing nations and now not only in Africa. It is crippling economies, devastating key-worker sectors and threatening security and stability. This year alone, it is estimated that 4.9 million people contracted the virus and only 1 million are receiving treatment out of a total infected global population of more than 40 million. It is disastrous that the three-by-five initiative appears to have failed and that the G8 aspirations for HIV/AIDS appear to be adrift. What is DFID's strategy to ensure that developing-nation Governments recognise and prioritise prevention and treatment and that the pharmaceutical industry allows the manufacture of cheaper, generic antiretroviral drugs?
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Hilary Benn: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, and the statistics that he describes paint a very depressing picture. However, the three-by-five target has been a good thing because, at the end of June, 500,000 people were on antiretrovirals in sub-Saharan Africa—treble the number of 12 months earlier. Is that progress? Yes, it is. Is it enough? No, it is not. Having a target encourages people to get themselves organised, which is why we fought so hard for the new target.

On prevention, the policy statement that we achieved for the first time in the EU makes the argument that is it only by prevention that we will defeat this disease. Openness and honesty is the key. On access to drugs, the agreement that has been reached to extend the period in which countries have to apply the TRIPS agreement—the least developed countries did not have to do so anyway until 2015–16—gives those countries the opportunity, if they have not got manufacturing capacity, to import from elsewhere, and we have to work with them to enable them to use that new freedom to get the drugs to those who need it.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend has just referred to the agreement on the amendment to the TRIPS rules. That agreement is very welcome—I pay tribute to him for his role in bringing it about—but he will also know that the previous agreements have not led to a single case of the rules allowing antiretroviral drugs to be brought to those who need them. Will he take steps to ensure that the new amendment brings affordable HIV/AIDS medicines to those who need them in the poor countries of the world?

Hilary Benn: The reason why the agreement has not yet delivered the benefits that we would like is that legislative changes were needed both in developing countries and in the EU—the EU has now put them in place—but we have been providing technical assistance to help countries to take advantage of that new freedom. We must now step up the international effort, because those poor countries that cannot manufacture those drugs now have the opportunity to import them, and it is important that that freedom is used.

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